Stage Door Review 2019

Raising Stanley / Life with Tulia

Jan 14, 2019

✭✭✭✭✩

by Kim Kilpatrick, Karen Bailey & Bronwyn Steinberg, directed by Bronwyn Steinberg,

• Raising Stanley / Life with Tulia Collective, Next Stage Festival, Factory Theatre, Toronto

January 11-20, 2019;

• undercurrents, Arts Court Theatre, Ottawa

February 7-16, 2019

Raising Stanley / Life with Tulia is an unusual collaboration between Kim Kilpatrick, a blind storyteller, and Karen Bailey, a fully-sighted painter. What links the two is a shared love for guide dogs for the blind. Kilpatrick has handled four working guide dogs so far and Bailey has raised three. The play that Kilpatrick and Bailey created with director Bronwyn Steinberg is a double biography. 

Kilpatrick’s gentle autobiographical narrative moves from her gaining confidence with a cane and then to mastering the very different personalities of her four guides dogs. Her story alternates with projections of Bailey’s painted studies of Bailey’s dog Stanley from puppyhood to maturity. For the blind or partially sighted, Bailey’s paintings and their transformation on an easel from one to the other are audio-described by Steinberg. Only at the end do we see how Kilpatrick’s story and Stanley’s link up.

Bailey’s paintings capture the subtle transitions in a dog’s nature from one mood to another. What draws us along more strongly, though, is Kilpatrick’s simple, utterly unaffected narrative. Kilpatrick broaches questions about the blind and their handling of dogs that you may never have considered. Kilpatrick herself was so proud of her cane skills, she at first looked on the prospect of a guide dog with apprehension. Yet, she discovers that guide dogs are better at getting her through a crowd or reserving her favourite table at a cafe. 

Kilpatrick always speaks of her and her guide dog as a team with each trying to live up to the high standards of behaviour of the other. We learn that the death of a canine partner is just as devastating as the death of any partner except that here the grieving person is impelled to move on to another partner while still mourning. This sensitive show provides insights into this human-canine partnership that are by turns surprising, humorous and deeply moving.

Christopher Hoile

Note: This review appeared in NOW Magazine on January 14, 2019.

Photo: Kim Kilpatrick and Tulia. © 2018 Joan Anderson.

For tickets, visit fringetoronto.com.