Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Ajax and Little Iliad (World Stage)

Rumours of War
World Stage gets small to approach big
by Beat Rice

Ajax & Little Iliad Produced by Evan Webber and Frank Cox-O’Connell and Harbourfront Centre (as part of Worldstage) Created and Performed by Evan Webber and Frank Cox-O’Connell

Ajax & Little Iliad is a two part original Canadian work that explores theatre of war and political theatre. Each of the one-act plays draws from stories of Ancient Greece, making reference to real historical events as well as mythology. Little Iliad comes first in the programme, followed by Ajax.
Little Iliad proves that you can stage a conversation that is delivered in an everyday kind of way that is engaging and interesting. The play is a Skype conversation between two old friends, presented uniquely. An intimate audience of 30 enters the space through the backstage area to find riser seating on the Enwave stage facing downstage. Masking blocks off the space and all we see is a table with a laptop and some clay figurines. The conversation is cleverly staged with Evan as the only ‘real’ actor who is physically in front of us, and Thom, a man on the other side of the Skype conversation who is visible through a tiny projection on the white clay models. All of the audience members have individual headphones in which we can clearly hear every word, breath and stutter of the two characters. It is like having an actor in your ear. It was for me, a completely new way of experiencing theatre. You are a close observer of what starts off as a friendly conversation, which becomes an exchange of story-telling that develops into role-play, and concludes in a mini eruption over the justifications of war. We hear the insights of an artist and of a soldier, and in the end we don’t, or at least I didn’t feel the need to pick a side. 

It is a brilliant parallel of large world events, like war.

After a 15 minute intermission we see Ajax, another story with roots in Greek mythology and drama. We watch two Greek soldiers watch Sophocles’ play Ajax. They debate over the choices of the characters in the play within the play. Some very poignant points are made about theatre as a means of helping humans understand. The commentary and parallels of theatre and war are subtle but clear. I don’t want to deconstruct the piece too much; it is something one just has to see. The audience are observers but also participants in this play. It is a brilliant parallel of large world events, like war. We seek to understand from an outsider’s point of view, and by doing so find ourselves involved, even unwillingly. Webber and Cox-O’Connell show off their skills in writing, direction, and acting. In Ajax, we see a more heightened stylized performance than we do in Little Iliad, where we are listening in on a conversation. 
Both pieces are excellent examples of political theatre that does not try to lecture or take a one-sided stand. It did not need disturbing statistics or graphic images. Both pieces, and the show as a whole not only make one think about perspective, but also challenges the idea of perspective. What we see and hear is sometimes not enough. It’s how we receive information that also influences our perspective. I feel like I am getting a little ‘Greek philosopher’ here, but this is what the show will do to you - it will make you think.

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