Michael Spence and Joel Benson (photo by Michael Cooper)
A Company Soars ...the script...? by Ramya Jegatheesan
The Sacrifice Zone is a story about living in a dying place, where the birds are silent and industry devours and poisons the land.
It is the story of a tragedy. It is a tale of David versus Goliath.
You’ve heard this story before, maybe seen it in one too many headlines: Deadly explosion rocks industrial town. Workers killed.
The Sacrifice Zone begins in the aftermath of this industrial disaster. Two grief-stricken widowers search for answers and justice. The corporation, and many in town, want them to take the money and be quiet. Questions are inconvenient when there is big money to be made.
Written by a former human rights lawyer, Suzie Miller, and directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas, The Sacrifice Zone is a beautiful, but flawed production. There are flashes of brilliance and innovative artistry. From the masterful use of screens and atmospheric lighting (Laird Macdonald) to the clever set (Michael Spence) and powerful physicality of the actors, the production has its high points. I felt chills in the play’s opening moments. And the live foley by John Gzowski only augmented the moody and dramatic vision on stage (though a lighter touch with the volume would go a long way).
This is a talented troupe with a commanding presence. They dance, sing and move with force and grace, a true triple threat. Michael Spence and Pam Patel were the night’s standouts. Spence as a man in love was dynamic and irresistible while Patel was the picture of childhood innocence. But I could not buy into Joel Benson’s portrayal of a naïve fatherless boy. His voice was too deep, and he was too old to make that 30-year jump believable.
The Sacrifice Zone has two weaknesses: its story and its intensity. The widowers’ grief seemed overwrought and belaboured while Spence’s Patrick shifted from sweet lover to clingy and jealous husband with no explanation. When the characters and script lack depth, how can the actors fully sink into their roles?
This was made worse by the overpowering intensity of the play. The frenetic dancing, singing, and transitions set such a chaotic, almost violent pace that my understanding and emotions struggled to keep up. It is a sensory bludgeoning.
Had the play begun wild and fierce, but come down from its peaks now and then, its intensity would have been felt more. As it was, the story, without any valleys and weighed down by a wooden script, lost its emotional core. For a play about a tragedy, this is a fatal flaw, but I would love to see what this troupe could do with a script that soars.