A real-life historical medical case and a woman’s current-day emotional and psychological struggle intertwine in Langham Court Theatre’s next production, That Elusive Spark.
Written by local playwright Janet Munsil, the story follows the strange and amazing, yet true case of a construction foreman who survived an 1848 explosion which caused a metal bar to enter his head and pierce his brain. Physician John Harlow (Michael Romano) attends to the wounded man, Phineas Gage (Trevor Hinton), whose resulting severe personality changes left his family struggling to adjust.
The modern timeline follows the career and emotional struggles of neuropsychologist and Harlow descendant Helen Harlow (Kassianni Austin). Having once had a promising future, she now teaches Psychology 101, lives in a frat house basement and suffers from depression and the stress of constant uncertainty.
Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Munsil has created a complex and layered comedy overseen in this production by director Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (Puente Theatre). She guides the cast through a weaving of the two scenarios, which, portrayed together explore the notion that despite scientific advances, society is still far from being able to fully understand how the mind works.
Commissioned by the Department of Theatre at UVic, That Elusive Spark was first produced by the Phoenix Theatre in 2005. This script is a good example of Munsil’s interest in creating plays that combine major concepts and societal themes with theatrical storytelling.
Most cast members in the Langham production play dual roles, shuttling between the eras, including Romano (Brian), Hinton (Hamlet), Lianne Coates (Wendy/Sophie), Aidan Dunsmuir (Jack/Jack) and Jessica Van Der Veen (Mrs. Adams/Phyl). Thomas Miller joins as Helen’s roommate Finlay.
That Elusive Spark runs from Feb. 27 to March 16. Tickets, $17-$25, are available online at langhamtheatre.ca, or reserve by phone at 250-384-2142. The box office is open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 6 to 8 p.m. on performance nights.