A False Face - Toronto Comes to Town
Watching A False Face, I was constantly reminded that the Toronto theatre scene is definitely not the same as Vancouver. We may all be Canadians, but theatre comes in different flavours and it is a product of geography as well as individuals. Vancouver's theatre is generally nowhere near as political, nor as earnest. Add in an urban Aboriginal element and we're definitely not in Kansas (I mean, Vancouver) anymore.
This new script is the debut play written by social worker and novelist Jeff D'Hondt produced by Spiderbones Performing Arts. D'Hondt draws on his 20 years of experience in social work to explore the darkest moments of his professional work in mental and substance abuse treatment services. He also adds in elements from his mixed Delaware, Mohawk and Belgian Canadian heritage in a tragic love story with a sci-fi twist. If that sounds like a lot of different threads to pull together, it's because that's precisely the issue of this ambitious new work.
Our two characters are Hunter (Madison Walsh) and Jake (Cole Alvis). They meet on a bus (or do they?) and fall into bed, then into a relationship. Both are social workers from Aboriginal backgrounds - she is a palliative care worker with a chip on her shoulder and he is an addictions counsellor with an anxiety problem. They talk - a lot. They fight - a fair bit. And you can likely guess what's next (though the time travel / memory retrieval device becomes a wrinkle all of its own).
Upon reflection (and reading the production blog), my concerns with the production remain the same. Director Ali Joy Richardson is challenged by the constraints of a Fringe budget / production to pull off a script with a variety of locations and times. Her solutions include many blackouts to enable scene and costume changes which pull the viewer in and out of the story by disrupting the pacing. Her actors are challenged with two prickly characters whose endless back and forth never quite lapses into a relaxed or believable chemistry (though brief moments shine through). And the ideas of what makes a false face, why we hide from each other, how we open up, what stories do we tell each other... there is a plethora of themes here and occasionally I felt lost in the telling of the tales without knowing what was really going on between these two people right in front of me.
If you're interested in a theatre production from another Canadian perspective, then A False Face is worth checking out. Just remember, it's the first staged production of this new script which might benefit from further development.