Review: Broken Branches (CreateTruth Productions and Workman Arts)

Photo of Sarah Kitz and Rebecca Applebaum

Broken Branches creates space for a discussion about sibling abuse.

I think, sometimes, it is difficult to put the truth on-stage because the nature of entertainment confines it to like and dislike.

CreateTruth Productions’ Broken Branches, in association with Workman Arts, playing at the Aki Studio bring the topic of sibling abuse to the forefront. But the heart of the story is buried under its need to speak honestly, and to not sugar-coat it’s complexities.

Divided into three separate stories tackling sibling abuse, Broken Branches tries to cover all its bases.

On stage right, Jade (Janel Rae Filipiak) takes her frustrations out in her artwork and on her skin. Centre stage, Rachel (Sarah Kitz), a mother of two, struggles with the past when she flees her husband and son with her daughter in tow. On stage left, Josh (Mark Correia) tries to connect with his estranged mother through videos documenting his brother’s violence and his dad’s toxic masculinity.

Characters enter and exit, and sometimes actions start while another conversation is finishing. I thought the staging was awkward, often distracting my focus. It didn’t help me that director Philip McKee has tied his actors to a variety of props while they talk.

When Diane and her art teacher (Anastasia Kokolakis) speak, they are often physically distant from each other, repeatedly separated by tables, art work, and the papers they bring on and off the stage. There is also Correia’s Josh, whose camera quickly replaces the audience in terms of his focus.

Playwright Lorene Stanwick’s goal is to have, or make space for, a discussion of sibling abuse. Each story she has written demonstrates a different experience with varying repercussions. And yet, despite hard work all around, the characters get no room to breathe. They appear as little more than paint-by-the-numbers figures who spout their stories within the framework of a play.

It’s almost like by trying to summarize the horror of the acts, Stanwick inadvertently simplified the subject; we miss the nuance of the struggles that come from the fact that these are siblings, figures whose violence is culturally acceptable.

What does that mean for these victims? The closest insight we get to this question is the discussion between Rachel and her childhood friend Diane (Rebecca Applebaum) when she admits to telling her mother of the abuse at the time. This small moment only touches on how families struggle to wrap their minds around sibling interactions changing into something so ugly. But it was so quick, this moment as if it was another talking point to be acknowledged before moving on to the next. I felt at times that I could almost see the checklist.

While Broken Branches finds strength in its intent, it gets caught up in the details, becoming more like a textbook than a piece of artistic expression.

Details

  • Broken Branches plays at the Aki Studio (585 Dundas Street East)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm
  • Tickets are $30 for general admission and $20 for students, seniors, and arts workers
  • Tickets can be purchased at the Aki Studio box office one hour prior to show, by phone at 416-531-1402, or online here
  • Content warning for mature subject matter that may be triggering, active listeners are present throughout the show if required.

Photo of Broken Branches poster courtesy CreateTruth Productions