We’ve seen the heartwrenching images on TV and on the Internet, but do we really understand the horrific effects of the war in Ukraine? In the North American premiere of Bad Roads, a Crow’s Theatre production which recently opened at Streetcar Crowsnest, playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit focuses on the effects of the war on intimate relationships and in particular, women. Directed by Andrew Kushnir, the play features a series of related vignettes that bring to life the harrowing consequences.
The media’s reporting of war can make one desensitized to the headlines; however, one of the objectives of Bad Roads is to revert our conditioning. When confronted head-on in this intimate space with the individual stories of suffering, we feel their enormous impact. Bad Roads packs a double punch since one cannot help but also think of the Israel-Hamas War while watching the performance.
Bad Roads was written in 2017, several years before Russia led a full invasion of Ukraine. The war had been ongoing since 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
The first vignette features Michelle Monteith as a Ukrainian woman setting up the history of the war and events to occur in the rest of the play. Speaking to the audience, Monteith impressively delivers her lengthy monologue with passion and urgency.
Another episode focuses on two Ukrainian combat soldiers (Shauna Thompson and Craig Lauzon) who are carrying the body of her lover (a fellow soldier) in the trunk of their car as they navigate freezing cold temperatures. Lauzon (in a different vignette) demonstrates a convincing intensity as a forceful and downright scary commander intent on abusing his power.
In one of the most intense vignettes, a Ukrainian woman (Katharine Gauthier in a riveting performance) is captured by a Russian soldier (Andrew Chown) and threatened with sexual violence.
Seana McKenna is delightfully shuffling, shifty and sharp as a peasant farmer who quickly sees the dollar signs in a random occurrence.
I wasn’t sure whether the smaller Studio Stage was going to be sufficient to stage these intense war scenes…but I was wrong. Exceptional lighting by Christian Horoszczak added to the intimacy of the scene while sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne helped transport the audience to wartorn Ukraine. Sim Suzer’s minimalist yet inventive set provided many functions as a theatre stage, war vehicle, and bathtub.
Snezana Pesic dressed the characters in decidedly Western clothing: jeans, sweaters, hoodies, and puffer jackets, so that North American audiences feel connected with the characters. The message is clear: this could happen to us.
Although it is billed as featuring “powerful and darkly comedic episodes”, the comedy is in small doses and largely overshadowed by violent scenes.
Emotionally compelling, Bad Roads boldly takes us to places we don’t want to go…but which need to be seen to understand the devastating impacts of the war in Ukraine.
Warning: Bad Roads includes scenes depicting physical, emotional, and sexual harm typical in wartime and distinct to the Ukrainian context.
Bad Roads at Crow’s Theatre runs until November 26, 2023. Run time is one hour and 55 minutes with no intermission. Purchase tickets online or at Streetcar Crowsnest Box Office. Streetcar Crowsnest is located at 345 Carlaw Avenue.
You may be interested in reading, “Rocking Horse Winner Brings Another Win for Crow’s Theatre: REVIEW“.