Trevor Abes: Writer

Review: Iphigenia in Splott (Skipping Stones Theatre)

The amount of room you keep free for people you don’t like says a lot about you. How far from your views on politics, sex and gender, religion, life and death can you wander, curious and receptive, before you won’t hear another word, regardless of who might be speaking, and what they may have been through?

Breanna Maloney as Effie.

If said space is expansive, your capacity for empathy is likely just as generous. If it’s a little tight, you may find it easy to dismiss other people’s life choices and life plans, except for a chosen few whose ideologies reflect the world you want to see.

Enter Skipping Stones Theatre, a Toronto collective dedicated to storytelling that aims to create/expand/entice your appetite for neurodiversity and understanding of mental health. Their latest, an adaptation of Iphigenia in Splott by Gary Owen, is a solo show best described as an exercise in social change by catharsis. 

Our lone protagonist, Effie, played by Breanna Maloney, is a poor, heavy-drinking, foul-mouthed and promiscuous woman for whom mainstream British society has little room to spare. She is a reference to U.K. austerity measures from the mid-2010s that spawned the politically fabricated and widely popularized notion that those most affected by the cuts – the poor and the mentally unwell – were to blame for their misfortunes.

Effie’s brashness, initially off putting in a punk middle finger kind of way, very quickly shifts into a shield between her and the outside world as we learn more about her obstacles and motivations. Her best medicine for what the highs of sex and drunkenness fail to numb – limited job prospects, unreliable social services – is a ‘fuck you’ to whoever’s within earshot. Passivity and acquiescence are no balm for a systemic lack of opportunity, one where those who can walk to a decent life have been swayed by those in power to expect her to grow wings and take flight there, and look down on her for not being able to.

Her abundance of self-preserving volume and aggression, set against her borderline-naive eagerness to feel and be understood, gradually saturated my headspace with her humanity, such that I could see the impact of it cleansing a narrow-minded patron of their belief that people like Effie are unworthy of their aspirations. At the very least, Maloney’s work does a lot of the heavy lifting in that direction, true to the company’s mandate. This is the social change the play is crafted to induce, by force of feeling, yes, waves upon waves of it, but also plenty of humor stemming from Effie’s blunt retorts, and a number of poetic conceits that elevate the whole work for me into the kind of theatre that endures because it not only represents the underrepresented, but does it with a sense of craft. One of these conceits, the superhero-ish ramifications of certain people being in Effie’s debt, is worth more in enchantment than the price of admission.

The play’s aforementioned exercise develops more organically than I’m making it sound. I slowly let go of self-awareness at the mercy of Effie’s tireless, expletive-laced tirades as space-time might be constricted by a favorite song. She says and does as she likes, while having mastered, by the precarities of her situation, the essential survival skill of not caring what most people think of her. She pursues what she wants, fearlessly and shamelessly, and when she is afraid or ashamed, she is able to stride through the flames of it accepting her flaws with open arms. All of this equals a mesmerizing character, and outside of the theatre, a human being with incredible potential. This is why Effie’s succession of tragedies, many of which she is basically fated to endure, stun as effectively as they do, and are liable to slide the ground from beneath your feet to make you revisit who’s deserving of your good graces.

Lighting Designer, Chin Palipane and Movement Consultant, Alice Cavanagh are adept at maximizing the intimacy of the moment, while also offering a sense of structure with their choices to this otherwise starkly presented play. The starkness, of course, is intentional, with Director Sean O’Brien astutely aware that Effie will more than capably fill up the almost bare stage on her own.  Combined with Maloney’s gift for bringing not only Effie but her whole community to life with but one body to work with, Iphigenia in Splott manages to break through its U.K. confines with a deeply felt portrayal of social inequality and the colossal strength required to climb out of it.

The show runs until July 17th as part of Toronto Fringe. Ticket info here.

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Upcoming poetry reading

This will be my first in-person reading in who knows anymore. Lots of talented folks in the lineup. Come on out if you fancy and you’re in Toronto on June 15th, 7 pm:

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The Market Herald Canada’s Leading Edge

I’m writing a new series for The Market Herald Canada called Leading Edge, which covers businesses aligned with the interests of society.

The inaugural profile covers solar power and off-grid telecommunications company Clear Blue Technologies.

Clear Blue’s CEO, Miriam Tuerk.

My second article, published today, introduces plant-based food and nutrition company Else Nutrition.

Else’s CEO, Hamutal Yitzhak.

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Review: Sabrina Benaim’s I Love You, Call Me Back (Plume/Penguin Random House)

I’m partial to poets who listen to enough music to end up sounding like it. That quality makes up one of ILYCMB’s enduring gifts, such that you may find yourself rediscovering/redefining your own inner sense of rhythm as you sway and dip from line to line. And I don’t mean because of rhyme schemes, or formal experiments, though those abound and delight; rather, it’s Benaim’s skill at teasing the poetry out of everyday speech, combining conversational intimacy with images in the business of softening hearts into being washed over by what ails them.

All I’ve ever wanted was to come home to a spoonful of honey / asleep in a soft bed / while a cool breeze from the ceiling fan / stirs our exhales together & then up / into the room, where I fall asleep / & do not dream of dying – “Song of Rediscovering Myself”.

The main aim of this combination makes up another slow-release gift, which is a drive to compile and cherish anything that helps us reconcile with impermanence, how the world we know, our particular slice of it, cannot escape the inevitability of an ever-changing roster. The list, which might include crying, coffee, music, flowers, weed, writing and reading, add your own, is a reminder of what makes the project of you a worthy endeavor. It’s about having lived just enough to see hints of someone you want to become and holding onto them like the life rafts they sometimes are. It’s about guarding the meaning/direction/solidity you’ve been able to glean from the world knowing the sources of it aren’t always going to be around to supply more.

I think whatever keeps you moving forward might be the same thing keeping you alive – “A Dream // A Memory”.

There is awe and desperation in these poems at how haunting it can be to live with the echoes of who we were, to borrow from “In the Spirit of Being Real”, as well as reckon with the echoes we have yet to create out of versions of ourselves we have yet to meet, internalize and let fade into time. The collection is an emotional landscape of how hard it is to get comfortable when the foundations of our identities turn out to be removable and temporary, and we are left scrambling to retouch the picture into a workable alternative we still recognize.

Sometimes waking up is like falling back asleep into my favorite dream. It rains, I forget there are clocks, sit on the stoop and read poetry. When the man calls me, he addresses love and I recognize he is talking to me. I recognize myself as love – “Ode to Purple Summer”.

I think the deep level of psychic mining that goes on in ILYCMB, and how Benaim often sings it, belts it into a kind of gospel for joy and compassion for imperfection, is effective because she doesn’t use the dense language of “canon-worthy” work to convey it; rather, she opts for an accessible stroll, or shimmy, through a no less lush and timeless reading experience, one grounded in navigating the overwhelm of balancing love, death and expectations between but one pair of eyes, and magically finding an abundance of moments worth keeping.

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Ephemera XII

Your life is a suggestion like a traffic light

A journey through concentric circles you can choose

To see or not see


Insufficient caution may result in tangling among the rings

Leading you to carry out absurdities

Like working for a lifestyle brand that asserts its existence

By selling vegetables and loaves of bread

With faces on them, without offering food

Except espresso bombs and gummy-candy shish kebabs

Maybe a chocolate bar with Pop Rocks or potato chips in it  


Focus on joy through your mind’s tendency

To equate suffering with progress will preserve

The 1:1 relationship between your selves in person and on social media 


How you can’t be bothered to hide what you wish you were better at

Because you don’t wish it, the guts just hang out

Your bandwidth already at capacity chiseling rhythms from experience

To have something to leave behind


To stand in for the solutions to global problems

You’ve yet to develop due to a distaste for naivete 


When you move out of your home

And make it look like you never lived in it

You should feel more in tune with the difference

Between believing something to be true 

And its truth not depending on you at all

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