Townsville - A Teen-Aged Dystopian Utopia
Strips of white elastic hang from the ceiling. They create an ever-changing backdrop which sometimes feels like a forest, sometimes like a curtain drawn to give us sight into Townsville - a small town filled with the remaining few survivors from some unspoken world disaster. Townsville brings forth what the world would be like if it were run by a gaggle of showboaty teenagers. Sometimes insightful, sometimes self-centered, but always a full character exploration.
The town is a supposed utopia whose joy revolves around their beloved mascot, Sylvia the invisible elephant. All is well until Ariel, a.k.a. “Applebottom” (Ella Simon), announces that the world is hosting “Bloom into the Void”. It is a talent competition to see who is the most exceptional person to exist before the world ends. It is here that we start to see the unraveling of the people. Their competitive fervour allows them to overlook the illness of the elephant, and when the elephant finally disappears, kidnapped by Josh and Autumn (Danny Coleman and Marlene Ginader respectively), the town is still too wrapped up in their own vanities to notice. Of course, there is one exception. Helvetica, Alisha Davidson, makes a mockery of their talent show, hoping to show the rest that some things are more important than fame and shallow acknowledgements. In the end, tragedy is the only way for the youth to realize what they lost.
It was revealed in a post-show talkback that the play is a vehicle for a theatrical exercise. The instructors at Studio 58 - co-producers of Townsville along with Vancouver-based The Chop - have their students working on the neo-buffon technique, putting their most negative characteristic forth and developing that into their character. Anita Rochon was the driving force behind the script, writing what was meant to happen, but keeping out any details like dialogue or blocking. Those particulars were left up to the actors. The students rose to the occasion. Simon, who noted that her weakness was being two-faced, played a wonderful Ariel – a woman who on the surface was charming and fun, but furthered the plot with her malicious game show. Davidson had the greatest challenge, being told that she is the only one who was truly interested in the elephant’s disappearance, and yet having to ascertain why her character would want to participate in the show. Unfortunately, this was not communicated well enough on stage, and I was left wondering why the about-face during the play.
Chick Snipper does a remarkable job with the choreography, taking a cast of actors and transforming them into dancers. With opening zombie-dance moments that were very close to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and a full-cast circus scene, the symbolism was not subtle, but it was enjoyable. Granted, there was not much in the play that was meant to be subtle. Even a few of the characters were named after fonts, a connection to let us know that these people are the text they have written.
There were a few moments when I worried that the humourous edge to the piece was about to slip into undeveloped self-indulgence, especially for the mayor, a character ad-libbed by Rhys Finnick, whose clowning occasionally seemed slightly like a petulant child screaming “Look at me!” But then they recouped with scenes like that of June (Alecia Braun) and Times New Roman (Rachel Aberle), who decide during the talent show to have a blurry slideshow tribute to Sylvia, the invisible elephant.
The sweet seduction scene between Brown and Coleman was very beautiful, and once again Snipper deserves kudos for her movement work. The self-scribed monologue about nighttime in Townsville, delivered by Aberle, was also one of the more notable moments, and was a tangible reminder of cottage nights in the summer. The relationship between Thomas and Lindsay (Joel Grinke and Genevieve Flemming) gave a sense of small-town childhood breakups, but left you with a feeling of a story that was not quite developed. But then again, that is also a truth about small-town childhood breakups.
The play was worth seeing, and if you missed it, it certainly was enough to inspire me to want to follow the careers of these young actors.