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- Title: No Save Points
- Written and performed by: Sébastien Heins
- Director: Heins, Mitchell Cushman
- Company: Outside the March, presented by Starvox Entertainment in association with Modern Times Stage Company, with support from Hilltop Studios and BMO Lab
- Venue: Lighthouse ArtSpace
- City: Toronto
- Year: To June 24, 2023
Memoir meets interactive video game technology in No Save Points, Sébastien Heins’s unique and moving (in more ways than one) new show for Outside the March.
When Heins was younger, his mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a rare, debilitating neurological disease that can result in jerky movements, impaired balance and difficulty speaking and swallowing. After symptoms appear, people usually die from the disease within 15 to 20 years.
The condition is also hereditary; there’s a 50 per cent chance that the offspring of Huntington’s patients will inherit it.
Heins was always addicted to his Game Boy console, but after learning about his mother’s illness he retreats even further into this fantasy world where, with the touch of a few buttons, he can control everything. If he’s faced with a monster, or a lake of fire, he can jump over them, climb up a ladder and move on.
But what if the potential monster is within him, growing?
The novelty of No Save Points is that Heins and his co-director, Mitchell Cushman, allow the audience to be part of the action. The writer and performer is outfitted with wires taped to his chest. When an audience member, aided by a very patient assistant (Liz Der) holding a crystal light, presses buttons for him to go left or right or to jump, Heins reacts to the signal and does just that.
The subtext is that, in the increasingly uncertain and frightening world he finds himself in, he has essentially given up control of his actions. Perhaps we, the audience, can help save him.
The beginning of the show feels slightly disorienting. Heins skips around in time and place, so we don’t get a proper sense of when and where he is when he receives the news of his mother’s illness. And it’s not clear how old he is in certain sections. For instance, when he recounts trying to avoid getting tested for Huntington’s, he seems to be an adult and on his own. How much time has elapsed since his mother was first diagnosed?
Furthermore, the way Heins introduces the four games that we’re about to watch – and have a part in controlling – could be more smoothly and effectively set up.
But once the games begin, which range from a medieval court setting to a mysterious and remote cartoon island, we begin to see the rich dramatic possibilities of this hybrid presentation. And it’s here that the designers – sets by Anahita Dehbonehie, sound by Heidi Chan, projections by Laura Warren, costumes by Niloufar Ziaee – get to power up and strut their stuff.
Dehbonehie’s design of the “Player’s Pen,” where select audience members sit near the stage and influence Heins’s actions in two games projected onto a screen, includes oversized recreations of the Game Boy buttons for the players to sit on. In the second half, these set pieces open up to reveal more surprises.
Heins, who has starred in some of Outside the March’s signature shows, like Mr. Marmalade, Vitals and Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric play, immerses himself in all aspects of No Save Points.
Not only does he have to tell a difficult personal story, but he also has to zigzag up, down and across the stage, controlled by unseen players. Some of the funniest moments come when players are stumped – by skill or a faulty wireless signal – and Heins, speaking in a high-pitched voice, gets to dispense tips about how to keep moving on.
And move on he does, with courage, honesty and a deeply felt desire to tell this unique story.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)