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REVIEW: New Balance by Christopher Bryant - Midsumma

Christopher Bryant is a playwright. I know that, because I’ve seen plays he’s written. He’s queer, because I saw his one-man show, Intoxication, which was about his sexuality but also about his addictions and the accident that almost killed him. Each show I see of his tells me more about him; even if it just tells me how good of a writer he is - how insightful and thoughtful he is about the world around him and his process of making theatre.

Chris is also disabled. His new show, New Balance, partly reckons with that new facet of his self and identity - and it also places his story in the wider context of the queer community. How does Chris see his cis, queer, disabled self? How does he see himself inside the community he lives in? How does that same community see him? Complicated, thorny questions to be addressed in only an hour of theatre - but potent and galvanizing.

Chris is a fine storyteller, whether behind-the-scenes or on stage in front of us. When I saw Intoxication, it was in a tiny Fringe Hub venue. Not much room to move, but intimate and revealing. At Theatre Works, Chris and co-creator Emma Palackic, have more room to breathe - and we get to see how Chris walks and how he runs. His physicality tells us a story, too. Sometimes he walks precisely around the edge of the stage. Sometimes he twists and bends.

Occasionally he sits on the ground, regarding some text projected to one side of the stage - important for hearing-impaired audience accessibility throughout the show. When he looks at this text, though, reading it, we come to understand these are not his stories. He’s opened up his privileged position of writer and performer to tell the stories of other queer people, of trans people, of disabled people who may not be writers or perfomers - but whose voices he can amplify.

There’s a lot of talk in theatre these days about diversity and representation. The trickier conversation in all our communities is about intersectionality. The queer community isn’t just one thing. No community is defined by a single race or sexuality or ability. How do we address everyone’s needs if everyone’s needs are different? How can a minority community like the queer community address the needs of minorities within the minority?

I respect Chris and Emma’s vision for the piece. Emma’s direction is subtle and exacting; even the smallest movements add to the stories they are presenting. Chris is a welcoming presence, putting the audience at ease before introducing us to his passions and his anger. The stories of other people help to weave a tapestry, but I felt a bit more at a remove from them. Amplifying the voices of others is a great idea, but when they are delivered by a white, cis man, they lose some of their power - even if there is some overlap in the experiences of Chris and the others.

That said, New Balance does ask challenging questions with righteous anger and we get to know Chris a little bit better, as he’s learning to understand himself. A fascinating hour of theatre.

New Balance closes at Theatre Works tonight.

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