Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review: (Vancouver / Theatre) The Concessions

(photo by Tim Matheson)
Facts, rumours and the preternatural collide in small-town thriller - Suspense and relationships make up for lack of warmth
A rural community is the nexus of mystery and hearsay in a play with a mystical twist on small-town drama.
by Chris Lane

The Concessions is a psychological thriller set in small-town Huron County, Ontario, where everyone knows each other and listens to the CBC. The play centres around Fay (Emma Slipp), at once a local and an outsider, as her vocation of reading tarot cards can bring about polarizing responses. She has a tumultuous relationship with barman John, thrown into even more turmoil upon the discovery that someone close to them has been murdered. Rumours abound, abetted by one meddlesome and inexperienced town reporter.

The writing is tight, as the suspense runs high throughout the piece. It’s far from predictable, and the complex relationships between the characters are what drive the story. It’s also an excellent depiction of its setting, making for a fitting debut for playwright Briana Brown, staging her first professional production.

A big part of the story is Fay’s tarot cards, as she struggles to understand why she didn’t manage to prevent the tragedy from occurring, and grapples with her role in the community. It’s a distinctive take on a more typical small-town murder mystery, although one problem with Fay is that she isn’t particularly likeable. She and John (Sebastian Kroon) are quick to attack one another, and Fay tends to have a negative energy about her.

Yet part of the play’s strengths lie in its characters' flaws. While the growing distrust between the characters was at times underdeveloped, the community’s collective fear was palpable. But the play would benefit from a bit more warmth and good humour. Fay is at least more likeable than the journalist character (Jillian Fargey) – whose dedication to getting the facts straight is marred by her ambition to tell the most exciting story – but that shouldn’t really be enough to draw the audience to a protagonist.

Nevertheless, Slipp delivers a strong and emotional performance as Fay, as she is certainly an interesting character who grows as the story develops. Alec Willows is charming as her father, Stan, a classically Canadian small-town cop with a much more down-to-earth attitude than Fay’s. The clear differences – and more subtle similarities – between the father and daughter make for compelling scenes and add to the play’s heart.

The sound design by Mishelle Cutler enhances the suspenseful atmosphere, particularly the use of radio clips that permeate the community discourse. The set by David Roberts is gorgeous, evoking a small house that’s a living part of the encroaching forest.

The production’s tone is at once bleak and tense, and the drama runs high throughout the piece; even if the characters aren’t the most charming, they’re interesting and well-rounded enough to carry a compelling tale.

June  5 - 14
Running time: about 100 minutes with no intermission. 

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