Justin's Next Stage Roundup 2

Gas - part of this year's next stage festival

Here's the second part of Justin Haigh adventure at Toronto’s Next Stage Festival. The Festival finishes this weekend.

This intense play from writer/director Jason Maghanoy presents a familiar yet contemporary depiction of modern warfare (in this case using Iraq as his creative sandbox) by incorporating age-old ideas, such as the hyper-masculine soldier, as well as relatively new ones, such as the importance of the unfiltered recorded image (an idea that also played an important role in Maghanoy’s last play, Dust). Gas is splintered into two narratives; the first of a unit whose chain of command is thrown into disarray after the coverup of a serious incident is brought to light, the second of a lone soldier who abandons his post and his senses, and is left to wander the Iraqi landscape.

Maghonay deserves credit for tight, evocative writing, elegant blocking, and some striking visual tableaus. Uniformly intense and expert performances from the cast bring their complex yet animalistic jarheads to life. One may initially be underwhelmed by the bare-bones stage, but it only takes a little prompting for one’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

If there is a fault to be found, it is in the overwrought conclusion. The story starts in already such a dark place and continually tries to one up itself that it eventually backs itself into a corner of extremity and turns the mood from real to the surreal, losing some of its emotional impact as a result. Of course one could argue from a metaphorical standpoint that the play, like the soldiers’ mental states and the effectiveness of the mission itself, simply falls apart.

This dark comedy with a gentle core centres on Anne (Christine Brubaker) a middle aged bachelorette as she is literally haunted by the memory of Jean (Rosemary Dunsmore), her recently deceased mother. Not only is Anne followed by her mom’s persistent apparition, but also the personal hang-ups and regrets that colour her life, ultimately forcing her to confront both. Rachel (Fiona Highet), Anne’s confident and easy going sister provokes her sense of self-doubt, while Bill (Ian D. Clarke), their Alzheimer-suffering father, acts as an anchor that prevents Anne from escaping her rut.

Director Andrew Lamb delivers the magic realism inherent in Tessa King’s script with tact, all the while keeping performances grounded. Rosemary Dunsmore stands out amongst the cast; she is a delight to watch as the perky and pragmatic phantasm.

Script wise, Buried is a little tame. Anne’s narrative may be more realistic than most family dramas, but not necessarily more subtle. Jean’s bitter-sweet storyline on the other hand offers a more satisfying emotional ride. Buried may (appropriately) lack bluster and bravado, but leaves one satisfied.

By Justin Haigh