I, Claudia Chris Abraham

I, Claudia Chris Abraham
I, Claudia isn't much more than a performance by an actor with masks, but the performance is a killer (and so are the masks). Emerging out of Kristen Thomson's one-woman stage show, it centres on the eponymous 12-year-old girl who's facing both the onslaught of puberty and the imminent remarriage of her divorced father; she tells us her hopes, her fears, her anxieties and her deep resentment towards her father's fiancée. Flanking this central figure (and all wearing similar masks) are her grandfather Douglas, who has similar misgivings about the divorce and remarriage, Leslie, Claudia's soon-to-be stepmother, who harbours certain feelings of inadequacy, and most crucially Drachman, an Eastern European ex-filmmaker who now works as a janitor and guards Claudia's basement hideaway from prying eyes. One would normally cringe at the obvious theatrical device of the masks and the stereotypically Canadian identification with an oppressed child, but Thomson makes it all work like gangbusters. Both her writing and performing are supremely nuanced, differentiating the various characters without lapsing into caricature, contrasting the unmoving masks with the outsized emotions of the text. Without ever resorting to glib shorthand she makes the shallow Leslie into a tragic figure and the victimised Drachman into a noble survivor. You can sense the joy with which Thomson approaches performing, and her enthusiasm is as energising as her pubescent heroine and her refusal to say die. There isn't a dull or dishonest moment in the entire piece — a feat for any movie, let alone a Canadian one. The only extras are a thorough and revelatory "making of" featurette, and complete versions of Drachman's two silent films. (Mongrel Media)