REVIEW: One-woman show compellingly confronts addiction

Raven Dauda's award-winning play Addicted comes to Halifax for first time

4 min read
Actor Raven Dauda
caption Actor Raven Dauda’s physical acting shone as her character compared the powerful grasp of addiction to a demonic possession.
Owen Starling

Addicted is written, directed and performed by Raven Dauda with an honest-yet-comedic approach in grappling with themes of addiction, familial trauma and the connection between the two.

The show follows Penelope Day, an alcoholic whose family has been historically cursed with addiction. Penelope, recently pregnant, wills herself to check into Saving Grace, a rehab centre with a varied cast of characters struggling with addiction. The addictions include the ones you might expect, such as drugs and alcohol, but the play also tackles lesser-discussed dependencies such as sugar, sex and hoarding.

Addicted balances out its mature themes with comedy. Dauda never shies away from serious moments of reflection and regret, but she also relieves tension with laughter. In fact, some moments of her show morph the two devices to try and create a strange feeling in the audience in which the moment might be comedic at first but quickly leads to a dark realization about a character.

Raven Dauda
caption Actor Raven Dauda talks with the audience during a Q and A session following her performance of Addicted at Neptune Theatre.
Owen Starling

Dauda won Best Performance for Addicted at the 2018 Dora Awards, a program that celebrates theatre, dance and opera on Toronto stages. The play came to Halifax’s Neptune Theatre for a 16-show run from March 12 to March 24, 2024.

Dauda performed on Neptune’s Scotiabank Stage, a small and intimate space where the stage is level with the first row of seats. Additional seats were placed at the back and sides of the stage, surrounding the performer from all angles.

‘Fourth wall’ is broken

The intimate setting could add an extra layer of pressure on many actors, especially when performing a one-person show, but Dauda leaned into the very close actor-performer setup. She wasn’t afraid to look directly at audience members and at times she would intentionally address them. Breaking the fourth wall of theatre can be a controversial choice but during this show it helped build an audience-performer connection.

Raven Dauda Q & A
caption Raven Dauda answered questions from audience members who had watched her one-woman show from the added onstage seating section at Neptune Theatre.
Owen Starling

Dauda quickly switched between characters as the sole actor, so the audience was already conscious of the fact they were watching a performance. Thus, any moments in which immersion could have been shattered by breaking the fourth wall was not a concern to this reviewer’s eyes.

Addicted almost feels like someone recounting a story. The audience-performer connection is prioritized when working through difficult themes. Following the performance, Dauda held a talkback Q and A session in which she openly chatted with audience members.

One actor, many modes

Emotion and honesty shine through in Addicted. The many characters are differentiated by their speech, posture and movement. Some accents weren’t perfect, such as the Irish lilt Dauda used to play Jessie, but they were executed well enough for a show where the performer must quickly swap between multiple voices.

Dauda’s physical acting shone in this performance. Her movement and physicality felt natural and smooth while also helping the audience recognize which character she was representing at any given moment. Dance and interpretive movement were used in the surreal, dream-like moments such as when characters recount past events, or when Dauda compares the powerful grasp of addiction to a demonic possession.

Intelligent use of lighting and sound helped elevate the performance. When the main character, Penelope, first enters rehab, the stage is abruptly flooded with a harsh white light.  This design choice immediately illustrates the anxiety Penelope faces when forcing herself to enter a space where everyone is a stranger and she must be open about her addiction.

Original music and soundscapes are used in many of the more interpretive, surrealist scenes to effectively construct the atmosphere of the moment.

Addicted is a comedic but realistic confrontation with the nature of addiction that nonetheless leaves room for interpretive artistic flourish. People interested and involved in theatre will enjoy the show purely based on the impressive display of performance ability in a well-executed one-woman performance, but Penelope’s journey is sure to be compelling in its own right.

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