Summerworks Picks - Ally and Kev; Facts; Pieta
By Justin Haigh
Ally and Kev
This dark and unsettling tale of revenge from writer/director Jason Maghanoy is not easy to watch, but impossible to look away from. Like Hannah Moscovitch's 2011 Summerworks entry, Little One, Ally and Kev's central characters are a sibling duo with some serious issues - with sister Ally harbouring the bulk of them.
Impressively, Maghanoy and cast member Cara Gee's flesh out Ally's disturbingly manipulative nature without veering into bad guy cliche territory, while veteran Rosemary Dunsmore injects a well needed dose of humanity into the mix. Additional touches like Alaina Perttula's tone-setting lighting and the unexpectedly heart-wrenching use of lipstick further enhance the piece.
A taught and nuanced work from writer/director Arthur Milner, Facts explores middle-east politics, religion, justice, science, and the complicated relationships betwixt all four using the investigation of the murder of a high profile American archaeologist in the West Bank as a framework. Milner's script is heady and pointed without being preachy, and offers some fresh and unexpected dynamics between the Palestinian and Israeli detectives and their suspect. Milner also deserves kudos for bravely bringing scripture into the argument - a facet of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that doesn't often get a lot of play from major media outlets, or even other theatrical works with a similar geo-political theme.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Milner has the powerhouse cast of Sam Kalilieh, Richard Greenblatt, and Alex Poch-Goldin along for the ride; all three actors deliver expert performances and exude tense chemistry.
The program notes mention that Facts is going to be touring the West Bank and Israel this fall. I suspect that the work will be warmly received by Toronto's distant and left-leaning theatre community, but I personally cannot wait to hear how audiences will respond when it is performed in the belly of the beast.
This translation of Danish playwright Astrid Saalbach's work offers a darkly comic window into one middle-aged businesswoman's troubled and alcohol soaked existence. Details of her fractured family life, imploding career, and increasing social isolation, are revealed to the only conversation partner she has: a dead man sixteen years her junior she discovers next to her in her hotel room bed. What makes Pieta stand out is the very real sense of decay it presents; one is charmed by the woman's light-headed and polite nature at the top of the piece, but pathos is the only sentiment left standing by the time the curtain falls.
A sadly believable and naturalistic performance from Tamsin Kelsey makes the experience feel that much more genuine, and director Sarah Garton Stanley manages to keep things interesting even while confining her lonely protagonist to a narrow strip of the already small Passe Muraille Backspace. Set designer Amy Keith also deserves a nod for her compact hotel room which is both an achievement in aesthetics and efficiency.