Karen Hines’ Crawlspace proves to be a riveting, horrific dark comedy

I learned an important lesson by watching Holmes on Homes back in the day. Namely, never renovate. If you don’t like something about your home, sell it and buy a new one, because renovating never works out. 

Sadly, Karen Hines’ show at the High Performance Rodeo teaches us that the life lesson is even simpler: home ownership is suffering. Crawlspace is essentially a 90-minute monologue describing the events that follow her real-life fateful decision to let go of her beautiful rental apartment in Toronto’s Little Italy and spend her life savings on a 400-square-foot “coach house” in what we’ll call … Roncesdale (as she puts it, “names have been changed to protect … everyone”). It made sense at the time, according to what she calls “artist math,” but of course disaster ensued.

“Of course,” because everything about the design of the show ominously stage-whispers, “He’s calling from inside the house!” Sandi Somers’ gothic-by-way-of-Pier-One set and the candlelit ambience in the lighting created by Somers and Cimmeron Meyer set the tone for what we know from the outset will not be a sunny tale. Hines, herself, delivers the self-deprecating soliloquy with a tone of arch resignation that initially makes you wonder when the other shoe will drop, but soon you realize it’s raining footwear. 

Like a more poignant version of The Money Pit (complete with racoon), Crawlspace initially engages on a level of comical schadenfreude. But as the hits keep coming (as they apparently did in real life), it becomes genuinely heartbreaking to watch Hines’ financial and emotional investment dissolving before her eyes. The show evolves into a potent indictment of a society in which increasing numbers of people live a precarious existence in the midst of mounting pressure to demonstrate faux abundance by their granite countertops. 

There are some wobbly bits that are a bit surprising given the number of times she has performed the show across the country, but the power of the text smooths these over and the small venue makes it almost impossible not to be drawn in. While there is an accusatory element to the story, the pervasive dark humour saves it from preachiness and renders it remarkable.

Crawlspace is part of High Performance Rodeo and runs at the Studio heatre at The Grand until Jan. 19. 

Lori Montgomery is a former FFWD theatre critic who practices medicine to support her writing habit.