Preview: Professional & personal responses to tragedy collide in the darkly funny, deeply human Vitals

Lauren Wolanski. Photo by John Wamsley.


After mounting a successful workshop reading of selections of Rosamund Small’s Vitals at Paprika Festival this year, Theatre Born Between (TBB) mounts the play in its entirety in its first full-scale production, directed by TBB co-founder Bryn Kennedy and running at The Commons Theatre. Darkly funny, deeply human and candid, Vitals is an up close look at the collision of a paramedic’s personal and professional responses to the serious, sometimes tragic, situations she’s called upon to attend.

Anna (Lauren Wolanski) is a Toronto paramedic—and a damn good one at that. A fierce, knowledgeable professional who suffers no fools and makes daily split-second life and death decisions, Anna has a strong sense of empathy and understanding for those she’s called upon to help. But her sharp, insightful sense of observation tells her when the tragedy in front of her is human-made—either through malice or negligence; and she has little patience or sympathy for the perpetrators. This goes for her colleagues, some of whom she has great respect for—like Afghanistan war vet Amir—focused, effective professionals she enjoys partnering with. Then there are the scattered, overly talkative, hero wanna-be types like Harry, who she despises. “People are terrible”—but helping people is her job.

Part anecdotal, part confessional, Anna takes us through a series of calls—the aftermath of which varies, depending on the situation. Gore doesn’t faze her, but rape and cruelty are hard to take. And sometimes, for reasons beyond their control, the ambulance just can’t get there fast enough; and she tries to swallow those situations as best she can. Experiencing the best and worst of people as she arrives in their lives during moments of extreme stress, vulnerability and tragedy—the clock ticking and every second counting—some calls get too close and stick. Some calls haunt and tear at her soul; triggering profound, life-changing responses to extreme situations.

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Lauren Wolanski. Photo by John Wamsley.

Wolanski is a brilliant storyteller; complementing the taut, razor-sharp observations of the script, hilarious gallows humour, and engaging, theatrical staging with a sharply rendered performance that weaves in and out of each 911 story with profound candour, intelligence and vulnerability. Rounding out the feisty, hard-ass side of Anna with an abiding sense of empathy and compassion, Wolanski takes us right along this ride with Anna’s deep, personal sense of commitment to the job and her raw personal reactions to the horrific, human mess of it all.

Vitals opens tonight and continues at The Commons (587A College St., Toronto—just east of Clinton) until November 25. Get advance tickets online or purchase at the door (cash only); PWYC/discounted advance tickets on November 21. It’s an intimate space, so advance booking or early arrival are recommended.

Audience warning: This production includes mentions of sexual assault, detailed descriptions of violence and suicide, and strong language. Suitable for audience members 14+. 



Toronto Fringe: Taking a ride with downtown EMS folks in The Emergency Monologues

hammock_between_2_ambusI never realized that the Toronto EMS folks had to deal with so much poo.

Morgan Jones Phillips’ one-man show The Emergency Monologues is a series of anecdotes based on his real-life experiences as a downtown paramedic, now playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille main space as part of the Toronto Fringe.

Using The Wheel of Misfortune, the monologues are chosen at random and Phillips gives the audience an hour-long peek into the job. Some of the stories are hilariously gross; some highlight the profound stupidity human beings are capable of, while others are of a more dire nature. We learned that “Code 5” means that the situation is pretty much hopeless – the patient is totally dead (as opposed to partially dead) and there’s nothing you can do for them. In the middle of the show, he takes a music break, picking up an acoustic guitar and serenading us with an original medical issue-related song.

During yesterday’s performance, we got two poo-related stories, an emergency birth (which also included a miraculous conversation with the patient in French, as it was the only language they had in common – and a bonus birthing story), a check-in on an elderly lady feared dead, a drunken balcony leap and a comedy of errors with an incoherent, whispering man. The music break featured “Every Bone in My Body,” about an overly optimistic daredevil, his sin visited on his son.

Phillips is an excellent storyteller – engaging, funny and frank – down to earth and circumspect about what he does as a paramedic. On the back of the program are 11 rules for paramedics, the first two being:

  1. People die.
  2. You can’t always change rule #1.

Other job-related wisdom includes rule #11: In an apartment building, the patient is always in the last door at the end of the hallway, usually on the left.

Kinda makes you want to reconsider your living arrangements if you’re thusly situated.

A remarkable piece of randomly selected stories about life as a downtown Toronto paramedic, The Emergency Monologues is not for the squeamish.

The Emergency Monologues has one more show during the Toronto Fringe fest: today (July 12) at 7:30 p.m. If you can’t make that one, no worries – the show got into The Best of the Toronto Fringe Festival (July 16-30 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts), so check out those listings. Copies of the script are available for sale at performances – or online.