Theatre that tackles questions of authenticity, morality, and connections.
In two new plays, art imitates life—or, at least, builds on the playwrights’ experiences and observations in the education system (Trigonometry) and in the Montreal indie art scene (A City).
In A City, conflicting memories associated with a departed friend tell a story of how his friends cope with his loss (in a word, poorly); in Trigonometry, we see teachers, parents, and a student try to selfishly leverage the system to their own ends (it goes poorly, too).
Rob Kempson’s Trigonometry is the third in a trilogy of plays inspired by his off-stage career as an educator, the previous two being Shannon 10:40, a two-hander staged at Videofag, and Mockingbird, a critically-acclaimed production at the 2016 Next Stage Festival, which featured a cast of nearly a dozen.
Like those plays, Trigonometry is interested in the confluence of sexuality and the murky ethical lines dividing teachers and students, but it’s not so simple as the sort of criminal love affair we’ve read about in newspapers and seen in TV movies. Rose Napoli’s blustery recent divorcee, Gabriella, and Alison Deon’s pregnant and deceptively beatific substitute teacher, Susan, both represent teachers and parents in the play’s equation, while Daniel Ellis’ clever but mathematically inept Jackson is the play’s linchpin.
Without giving much away (we hope), blackmail rears its head from several angles. There’s more hypocrisy on display here than in Kempson’s previous work (he directs, as well), as the characters find themselves at odds with the system they’re enmeshed in. There’s also more plot twists, and we had some trouble believing these supposedly intelligent players would act so obliviously as they unfurl. Still, there’s a lot to chew on, and Napoli, in particular, sinks her teeth into a polarizing role.
Greg MacArthur’s A City was inspired by his time in Montreal’s arts scene, a period of five years when he became close with, among others, the founding members of Sidemart Theatrical Grocery, an indie company now based here in Toronto.
Inspired by their relationships, he created characters based on them and a scenario in which those characters mutually reminisce a friend who passed, a charismatic artist who died in tragic and mysterious circumstances, who they refer to as Shia LaBeouf, as they mutually agree his real name is still too painful to mention. (Audiences will make their own connections; this writer couldn’t help but think of the influential and missed Toronto artist Will Munro, in response to their glowing descriptions of their friend.)
It becomes clear as the show goes on that the loss of “Shia” was the catalyst for a slow dissolution of their bonds as friends and sometime lovers. The set, by Andjelija Djuric, looks like a contemporary art gallery installation, and director Jennifer Tarver has the audience in the round, surrounding the display/stage and her four fine actors (Cole J. Alvis, David Patrick Flemming, Junstin Goodhand, and Amy Keating). And yet, the juxtaposition of naturalistic dialogue (the actors often interrupt each other, and address the audience directly) and the tableau staging left us somewhat disinterested. Perhaps the bonds these characters share, or shared, can’t be properly described by themselves. It’s an intriguing premise and concept, but we found ourselves frustrated by the lack of empathetic connection.
Trinonometry runs to March 25, Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst Street), Tuesday – Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m., $15-$20.
A City runs to April 2, Artscape Sandbox (301 Adelaide Street West), Tuesday – Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday – Sunday, 2 p.m., $20-$40.
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