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culture

Iceland is Well Worth the Return Trip

Last year's SummerWorks hit returns with the same cautionary tale about the Toronto real estate market's many risks.

Claire Calnan, Lauren Vandenbrook, and Kawa Ada. Photo by Joanna Akyol.

Iceland
Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
March 2 to 24, 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
$32 to $42
stars 4andahalf

For Torontonians suffering from a case of cabin fever, we highly recommend traveling to Iceland this month. It might not be the most comforting trip, but it’s well worth the fare.

Contrary to its title, Nicolas Billon’s play—the second in his Fault Lines trilogy (which also consists of Greenland and The Faroe Islands)—doesn’t take place in its namesake scenic island nation. Rather, it zooms in on a single condo in Toronto’s Liberty Village, and the three people whose lives intersect in one traumatic incident there. As each character reveals his or her part to play, we learn that the trio is drawn together by far more than just coincidence. Their lives are interconnected by the almighty dollar.

For Kassandra (Lauren Vandenbrook), money is a burden. After moving from Estonia to Toronto to pursue her masters in history at the University of Toronto, she eventually has to take up work as an escort to offset her twin brother’s gambling habit back home. For Halim (Kawa Ada), a Pakistani man, money is a passion. He’s a condo flipper and a full-blooded capitalist who holds his cash (and crude sense of humour) in full view. To him, “money is perfect”—a way of simplifying relationships, goals, and happiness. Meanwhile, for Anna (Claire Calnan), a devout Christian with a strong network of friends on social media but no apparent connections in real life, money is a sin. Her life is upended when she’s evicted from her rented condo by its new owner, only to find it back on the market, newly renovated with a much higher price tag, a month later.

Billon’s script isolates the characters through monologues spoken directly to the audience, and Ravi Jain’s direction deepens the chasm between them by physically separating them on the Factory Theatre stage, leaving them visible under precise spotlights, with what seems like miles of darkness in between. Whatever interaction there is between the characters is stiff, cold, and distant. Luckily, each actor is entirely capable of carrying the show solo.

Calnan—who, like Ada, is reprising her role from this summer’s acclaimed run during the SummerWorks festival—is frighteningly contained as Anna, a woman no one looks at twice (unless she’s scolding them for their foul language). Her tension is so visceral that her voice and tears tremble with it, though she never leaves her chair. Ada, on the other hand, relishes his character’s overbearing nature. Halim adores cashing in on what he sees as weaknesses in others. His unabashedly sexist and immoral attitudes are incredibly repulsive, but Ada delivers them with such gusto that you’d be crazy to want him to stop.

While Anna and Halim are polar opposites, Kassandra is the tragic third party stuck in the middle. Vandenbrook is the only newcomer to the production, and she’s a bit too far removed in her performance to match the magnetism of Calnan and Ada. But Billon’s impressively crafted script will nevertheless keep audiences rapt while they untangle the various layers and connections between the characters.

The play’s title factors in during Halim’s speech, during which he talks about his desire to pounce on money-making opportunities when other people are down. To fully understand the connection, it would help to bone up on Iceland’s recent banking history. (Remember when they were considering adopting the Canadian dollar?) But even without a degree in international economics, Iceland will leave you thinking about the real cost of every overpriced condo listing you come across.

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