In Melody A. Johnson’s new one-woman show, Person of Interest, the Toronto actress and writer documents her experience living next to bad neighbours and how that situation affected her personal and professional life.
The show takes place in 2010, when Johnson was spending a lot of time in her home studio while her husband worked out of town and her son was in all-day kindergarten. She said she felt socially isolated home alone with her new neighbours and it started to get to her.
“The neighbours started making demands that I tried to keep up with,” Johnson said. “And then after a while it dawned on me that I’ve gone beyond being congenial and a nice new neighbour and now I think I’m actually being pushed around.”
Among the grievances, Johnson said the neighbours wanted her to change her home’s exterior colour scheme to match theirs and they complained about her clothesline and garbage bin placement. She said the neighbours has issues with multiple surrounding households.
“I kind of approached this in a very Canadian way. I apologized and I tried to be as polite as I could but then I just couldn’t take it anymore and so I started to act out, I guess you could say,” she said. “And what was happening with the neighbour, I used in my acting. It came through in my acting, the frustration and consternation that I felt with them, it started to infiltrate my professional life, too.”
Johnson took notes during her ordeal, kept a journal about the activities and wound up with trails of e-mails as she commiserated with friends, family and the other people on her street. A couple years later she started work transforming that material into a one-woman show and last year she debuted Person of Interest in Toronto.
From Feb. 7 to 9 Johnson brings the play to VIU’s Malaspina Theatre. It’s the first time she’s performing her one-woman show outside of Ontario.
The title came when Johnson learned that she was a “person of interest” after undergoing a police background check to be allowed to volunteer at her son’s school. The designation indicated that her neighbour had called the police on her, even though there was no conviction.
She described the move as a “stealthy little missile,” since being a person of interest could affect one’s life in different ways and could impede one’s ability to apply for work or school. She added that person of interest legislation has changed since then.
Johnson said audiences have been sympathetic to her story and Person of Interest has even brought some of her surrounding neighbours together in solidarity.
“It’s funny; the neighbours on the other side of the terrible neighbours and the neighbour who is adjoined to our house who also had to deal with the bad neighbour, we’ve created a great alliance,” she said. “And they’ve come to see the show because they were right there along with me on this hellish journey.”
WHAT’S ON … TheatreOne presents Person of Interest at Malaspina Theatre from Feb. 7 to 9 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $30, $15 for students. Available online.