Judith Thompson and 'Such Creatures'

Published: January 25th 2010

Michaela Washburn as Blandy (right), Maria Vacratsis as Sorele (left) in Such Creatures
Pic: Alex Felipe


Judith Thompson’s inspiration for her new play Such Creatures came from two very different sources. One was from riding the bus in Toronto and overhearing a group of teenagers converse; the other was from a letter one of her students brought in to class, written from memory by a Holocaust survivor.


“One voice in particular stood out for me,” Thompson recalls from the bus. “She seemed so aggressive and yet lost, and there was incredible musicality in her voice. Just for those five, ten minutes on the bus, I decided I needed to create a full voice. And for me, thinking about the lives of some Toronto teens and youth, it’s like living in a war zone – they face the same kind of adversity that people in real war zones faced.”


The other piece of the puzzle – because Such Creatures is a duet of sorts, with two interlocking monologues spoken by two different women – came when one of her acting students at Guelph University brought in the letter from a Holocaust survivor who lives outside of Ottawa. The letter was written to the woman in Auschwitz by her sister, who was waiting to be hung for her part in blowing up a crematorium along with three other girls, all of whom were tortured but refused to give up her name for her part in the plot.


“And of course in the classroom, time stood still,” Thompson recalls. “I thought, this is telling me something. This is so significant. When I started doing my research years later, I realized the majority of people don’t even know about this.”


The story stayed with her and haunted her, and Thompson found great universality in the idea that brave young people are so underestimated, just like the girls in Auschwitz were able to smuggle ammunition from the factory because the SS never suspected that “these young, sick, starving girls would ever think of anything.” “And then I wanted to kind of draw an oblique parallel between the courage it takes for those of less privilege and who live in a violent world in our very own city, just to live day by day.”


Together, these two ideas form the crux of Such Creatures, a new play that marks Thompson’s return to Theatre Passe Muraille since she started her playwriting career with The Crackwalker 30 years ago. Written entirely in monologue – “I think it’s in the monologue that a voice can become an aria,” she says – the play unites the voices of two seemingly disparate women: one is a 15-year-old girl named Blandy, who contemplates her life so far while waiting for a gang of girls in a Toronto park. The other is Sorele, a middle-aged woman who returns to Auschwitz to process her ordeal there as a 15-year-old, particularly her pivotal role in blowing up a crematorium.


The two are linked by themes of empowerment and courage and in Thompson’s words, “I want us to look at our moral character and say when can we first refuse to participate in something that we don’t believe in, and then go further, and move against it – whether it’s right here in our city or a genocide taking place right now.”


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