Reassembled, Slightly Askew is deeply weird—and generous

Shannon Yee's Reassembled, Slightly Askew is playing The Culture Lab as part of the PuSh Festival.

Reassembled Slightly Askew: your treatment awaits. (Photo by Stephen Beggs)

Reassembled, Slightly Askew provoked one of the most intense theatrical experiences I’ve had: deeply disorienting, often frightening. Was it worth it? Probably.

Written and produced by Shannon Yee, Reassembled, Slightly Askew explores Yee’s experience of acquired brain injury: symptoms, crisis, hospitalization, coma, treatments, and reemergence—changed.

The wild thing is that it all takes place inside your head. When you go, you enter the Culture Lab as part of an eight-person audience. There are eight hospital beds waiting for you. You take off your shoes, lie down on one of the beds and give yourself over. A nurse (Stephen Beggs) sets you up with a blindfold and headphones. You can’t see anything.

Then it starts. Composer Paul Stapleton has recorded Reassembled using binaural microphones. That means that he recorded everything using mics that were placed inside headsets on somebody’s head. So, if that person was walking through traffic, for instance, you hear that traffic as if it’s coming from outside you exactly as if you were in that location. The combination of ordinary recording methods and headsets places the sound inside you, between your ears. Binaural recording places you in a virtual auditory environment. It’s fucking freaky. When a doctor called “Shannon” from over my left shoulder, his presence felt so real—so convincingly in space outside me—that I wanted to swat him away.

Composer Stapleton also worked with a choreographer, Stevie Prickett, to create a sense of movement within the virtual space. So you’re proprioception gets very shifty. I got good and wobbly.

To evoke other symptoms of Yee’s neurological crisis, the creative team, which also includes dramaturg Hanna Slattne, has built a layered soundscape, complete with audio interference, frightening and sustained crescendos of noise, and passages that contain multiple, disconnected voices, including those of caregivers competing with Yee’s internal monologue.

I won’t lie. For at least the first quarter of this 48-minute long immersion, I wasn’t sure I could take it. But I calmed myself by remembering that I had seen recently recorded video of Yee in which she is alive at least. And it became clear that there were going to be islands of calm within the chaos.

I should also add that I was probably particularly prone to feeling overwhelmed: this fall, I experienced a medical event in which I was suddenly so nauseated that I couldn’t move my body or open my eyes; all I could do was hunker down and listen. Experiencing this show was a bit too much like a repeat. That said, apparently even those without specific unpleasant associations sometimes find Reassembled a lot to process. The nurse assured us on the way in that, if we had to remove our blindfolds or headsets, that would be perfectly cool.

And, if you hang in with it, you realize that there is something staggeringly generous about Reassembled, Slightly Askew. With this piece, Yee invites us into a place of profound vulnerability and intimacy. Her generosity allows us to feel greater compassion—more specific, informed compassion—for people undergoing experiences like hers. And, of course, for medical caregivers, understanding what their patients are going through has huge practical consequences: Reassembled, Slightly Askew has been getting lots of exposure within the neurological caregiving community.

Reassembled also reminds all of us how blazingly important kindness is. When you can’t see anybody, when you’re in distress and you can only hear voices, the tone of those voices has the power to crush you or save you.

For me, the most welcome voice in this adventure comes from Yee’s partner, Gráinne Close. Close is so reassuring, such an anchor in an awful storm that, whenever she spoke, I wanted to curl myself up in her lap and weep with gratitude.

In the 25-minute documentary video that follows the auditory experience—it’s about the making of Reassembled—Close says that she knew the brain injury would alter her partner: “I knew that we would work with that and accept that.” That’s love.

REASSEMBLED, SLIGHTLY ASKEW By Shannon Yee. Directed by Anna Newell. Composed by Paul Stapleton. Produced by Shannon Yee. On Friday, January 19 in the Culture Lab. Continues until February 4 as part of the PuSh Festival.  

Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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