Kayak: the joy of discovery
The joy of festivals is the sense of discovery. The sense of the unknown. And mostly the sense of possibility. With especially troublesome scheduling this year, not everything can be seen by everyone. We pick some shows, and some we leave up to fate. In this case, when I got caught up in a phone conversation en route to one show and ended up missing it, the fates guided me toward what I can truly say is my highlight of this year's SummerWorks: Kayak.
With stellar, insightful writing by Jordan Hall, Kayak, produced by The Original Norwegian, successfully navigates the rapids of didacticism by focusing on basic human relationship as a means to still prove a point. Kayak traces mother Annie Iverson’s (Rosemary Dunsmore) slow unraveling as she comes to terms with her son Peter’s (Daniel Briere) new activist girlfriend Julie (Dienye Waboso), a foreign specimen who is expanding Peter’s world and mind in ways Annie can’t fathom. Julie is an new agey activist whose view of the world is the antithesis of the suburban SUV-purchasing Annie. Daniel’s tug-of-war between these two opposing women provides for compelling and recognizable battles to ensue.
But the anchor of this piece is the ever-radiant Dunsmore who is heartfelt and soul-wrenching as we watch her unravel from confidence to deflation. Rarely do Toronto audiences get the opportunity to see Dunsmore so intimately (sitting the second row of the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, at moments it felt like she was speaking only to me). Sitting in a kayak for the duration of the play, Dunsmore’s craft is at its finest – the woman simply cannot make a bad choice.
As the girlfriend character Julie warns us early on in the piece “Nobody ever said doing the right thing would be painless.” However, it can be. Hall has managed to offer insightful details of the lives of protestors and activists around the world without a heavy hand. This is because she has steered clear of the trap that can often pervade politically-guided work: the basic character relationships still take precedence over anything else. Without strong, three-dimensional characters, the audience will never stay on for the ride to see where the actual politics of the play might take us. Hall’s writing, under the careful guidance of director Tommy Taylor (himself a G20 detainee), shines here, and I can only hope that it will get recognition within the festival’s multiple awards.
Festivals are wonderful in that they offer a broad spectrum of genres – some bordering on performance art, some vaudevillian, but if you’re looking for a well-crafted and thoughtful play in a top-notch production, look no further than Kayak.
Kayak produced by The Original Norwegian is on as part of this year's SummerWorks. For more information float here.