Nightwood goes into the dark corners of couplehood
By Gregory W. Bunker
Stockholm is a psychological snapshot of the life of a young couple caught in an interpretation of Stockholm Syndrome: when a hostage empathizes with his captor. It isn’t immediately clear that this is the case—outward appearances being what they are: appearances—and while it will have you happily entertained with gentle poking fun in the beginning, the façade of blissful coupledom quickly becomes disturbing. This dark transition is brilliantly accomplished through a third-person narrative that privies the audience a glimpse of the thoughts behind the dialogue of Kali and Todd, the play’s only on-stage characters. This narrative is especially effective, and frightening, when it illustrates that each of them makes a continuous, conscious effort to deceive the other. This drama plays out under the direction of Kelly Straughan, who has put the many theatrical pieces of this non-stop, off-the-rails rollercoaster together for an extremely realistic, passionate production. That the play has its North American debut at the intimate Tarragon Theatre makes it even more visceral.
The backdrop (Lindsay C. Walker) is the couple’s kitchen: its whiteness, cleanliness, simplicity, and symmetry make it contemporary in that formal, institutional, IKEA kind of way. The kitchen is eerily familiar and is the perfect setting as the mirage that the pair aspires to: a domestic dream come true. Look forward to it getting absolutely trashed. Melissa-Jane Shaw (Kali) and Jonathon Young (Todd) are outstanding in their portrayal of the loving, loathing couple. The conflicted emotions that burst out of Young quickly get the audience onside, but later Shaw’s trembling, desperate remorse is shockingly affecting despite her conspiracies for control. The lighting (Kimberley Purtell), and especially the music (Verne Good), complemented the choreography and soliloquies beautifully.
As contemporary theatre, this play powerfully pairs a superb script (Bryony Lavery) with seamless, expressive choreography (Susie Burpee) that often serves as a foil to the psychological war being waged. Topically it reflects a new condition in society only so far as the woman is the abuser and the man is the willing victim. There are hints of other social commentaries—the ease with which family and friends can be distanced nowadays, for example—but this isn’t emphasized. Ultimately it is a love story built upon insecurities, control, complacency, and compromise that sustains itself on cycles of quiet suffering punctuated with fits of rage, resentment, and sometimes, pleasure. If there is a message, it may be to be wary of where normalizing abusive behaviour may lead you, though this is only hinted at during Todd’s recital of the recipe for the birthday dinner he makes for himself. This play serves better as a study of a particular, paradoxical human condition of love, and is entertaining even if it may be a slow-motion emotional disaster.
“Stockholm” at Tarragon Extra Space, Seventh Stage Theatre Productions in association with Nightwood Theatre, to June 3