Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: (Toronto) THIS

Christian Laurin and Yanna McIntosh Photo by Bruce Zinger.
THIS is truly a state of being…
by Dave Ross

Melissa James Gibson’s THIS opened at Canadian Stage last night. It’s the first time her work has been shown in Toronto, but I hope we get to see more soon. THIS is, to quote from the program “a play about ‘this’: the designated ‘what I am in the middle of,’ precluding distance, perspective, appreciation, evaluation. It is my reality here and now, this thing I am living, this ‘not anything else’. These words are a bit meta for my liking, but they so accurately portray the effect of this production, which plays with the physical theatre space while exploring ‘this’ — the state of being for and between each character. 

Gibson’s script is deft, with the perfect dose of humour and pain, albeit with the odd bit seeming out of turn with the production.

THIS is a very even play, and not in the negative sense. While the play is described as being the story of Jane (Laura Condlln), a widower still dealing with the death of her husband Roy, it is equally the story of all the other characters as well. Indeed, the structure of the play, built as 10 sequences of events, takes turns highlighting each of the characters, providing each a chance to ask questions of themselves and explore their ‘this.’ While events frequently link back to Jane, the sequences are invariably about the ‘this’ of Alan (Alon Nashman), Marrell (Yanna McIntosh), Tom (Jonathan Young) and to a lesser extent, the catalytic Jean-Pierre (Christian Laurin).

There are some exceptionally strong performances in THIS. Nashman’s Alan is a brilliant blend of neurotic and yearning, while McIntosh’s Yanna is superb, from rage and confusion to smoky jazz music. However, Laura Condlln’s Jane seems to be lacking. I’m not certain if this one-dimensionality is intentional as part of the character’s grief, but it stands out in stark contrast. Similarly, Young seems to be phoning in his performance of Tom. There is a major plot point that revolves around these two characters, and I found myself unwilling to invest emotionally in their plight, as it just didn’t seem manifest or real. Gibson’s script is deft, with the perfect dose of humour and pain, albeit with the odd bit seeming out of turn with the production. There is a somewhat uncomfortable event toward the end of the work that seems to exist wholly for shock value, and disrupts the end of what has been an exceptionally graceful script. 

Equal to the performances is the role the space itself plays in the theatre. Canadian Stage has “undesigned” the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre, reverting it to its pre-theatre roots. The stage has been completely removed, and the space taken back to bare walls. Windows at the rear of the stage have been unblocked and overlook Berkeley Street itself, with doors and floors uncovered as well. Seating has been reconfigured with spaces on three sides of the performance space. The design of the production, by Astrid Janson, is perfectly suited to the story. It provides us with just enough space and definition for the story to take place, removing the formal barrier between audience and performer, but without breaching it. THIS is such a fine balance, and it is deftly achieved here. 

THIS is an extremely unique theatre experience. It is immersive without being intrusive, thought-provoking without being overly heavy, and deftly executed by a talented cast. Ultimately, THIS is a story of return to oneself, leaving ‘this’ as a space we pass through on our way back. 

THIS runs at the Berkeley Street Theatre until April 13.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.