Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void is part of an anthology project called Sunny Corner Stories, which consists of stories about the playwright’s hometown on the Miramichi River. Robbie Lynn, playing The Narrator, performs the opening monologue from Sunny Corner Stories as an introduction to Opi-Void — presented by Herbert The Cow Productions at the Black Box Theatre.
With a beer in hand, the Narrator tells the audience all they need to know about Sunny Corner. The area has seen better days. There are potholes everywhere and hardly any plows to be seen in the winter. Of course, a lot of that changes once election season comes around. Then, rural communities all of a sudden matter.
And the young people are moving out west, leaving home far behind. So as graduating classes shrink, the older generations are left to wonder what will become of them.
About the young people who do stay, The Narrator tells us that many of them are drug users.
The character’s monologue comes not only from a place of concern, but also of feeling hopeless, if not totally defeated. It’s hardly an attempt to garner pity from the audience. The Narrator, standing in for the community at large, only wants to be acknowledged and understood. He isn’t looking for the “luxuries of the bigger cities,” only what’s necessary for the local people to live. It seems, unfortunately, that to be acknowledged, let alone understood, is a luxury.
Directed collaboratively between Nowlan and the actors, Opi-Void is about three friends trying to determine a solution after their friend Chris overdoses in their home. With Chris’ body in the other room, the friends go over all their options. Scout (Brianna Parker) insists on getting a truck and taking Chris’ body to the dump. Coley (Kat Hall) strongly opposes the idea, arguing that clearing a path in the snow would draw suspicion. At the same time, Scout and Coley are trying to help Johnny (Nowlan) come down from a bad trip.
Scout tries placing the blame entirely on Coley, since she was the one who poured the drinks. When Johnny runs outside in the cold, Scout wonders what would happen if he died out there and they later blamed him for everything.
The way Scout sees it, “addicts” disappear all the time. So, who would care if Chris went missing from their community? Disgusted, Coley reminds Scout that Chris has a family. Chris being a drug user doesn’t erase the fact he had people who cared for him and that he cared for in return. Coley wonders if Scout could seriously face Chris’ sister everyday, knowing she dumped her brother’s body somewhere.
Opi-Void asks its audience to think about the ways society marginalizes people who use drugs and to question our own biases.
Nowlan’s commentary on the opioid crisis in Canada is delivered with fervor, although sometimes to its detriment. Watching the gears turn in Parker’s head as she takes Scout from ‘solution’ to ‘solution’ is fun. Hall’s Coley is unwavering in her defense of Chris’ humanity. Hall is dynamite as the friend who calls people out on their bullshit.
Nowlan’s high-energy performance overpowers and takes attention away from the dynamic that develops between Hall and Parker’s characters. Which raises the question, why include Johnny at all? Opi-Void feels like it could easily be a two-hander. Or at least, find something better for Johnny to do early on. Johnny’s interruptions are really distracting.
Opi-Void offers insightful commentary about the opioid crisis and its impact on small communities.
Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void, presented by Herbert The Cow Productions, ran September 13th at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre.