Videofag, a performance venue in Kensington Market, has played host to a variety of events since it opened last November. It has transformed itself into a cinema, an art gallery, a nightclub, or whatever else has been needed. But its transformation for The Biographer, a new play from Daniel Karasik, is something else entirely.
Set designer Jung-Hye Kim delivers a surprise you don’t notice until you look down: the entire floor is covered in sand. It’s a thrilling choice. Turning your gaze skyward, you meet a ceiling littered with hanging glass bottles. each filled with a scribbled piece of paper and a tiny, glowing light. Paired with Thomas Ryder Payne’s oceanic sound design, The Biographer‘s set turns Videofag into quite the therapeutic setting.
While the play’s slow pace and poetic language match the atmosphere created by the design, it’s not quite as captivating.
It’s not for a lack of talent. Earl Pastko, a veteran of the stage and screen, plays Franz, a petty thief recently freed from jail and now searching for his estranged daughter. The play begins with his arrival at the site of a former seaside carnival, apparently now populated by a community of young female escorts, who are cared for by a cello-playing clown (director, actor, and teacher Stewart Arnott). Franz meets Delilah (actor Miriam Fernandes, with an enviously intense stare), a friend of his daughter’s and also her spitting image, who directs him towards the home of The Biographer (also played by Arnott), a quiet, Bach-loving man who allows Franz’s softer side to emerge (albeit briefly, before he pulls his knife out again). Then the play takes an upswing, with Franz restarting the long-forgotten carnival and welcoming a Strongman (Arnott again) to the crew. Unfortunately, this man threatens the new life Franz has built and foils the very reason he built it: to reconnect with his daughter.
Karasik’s writing is subtle, simple, and symbolic—a little too much so to really resonate with a wide audience (it seems like he did a classics course or two in university) or fully develop his characters. Arnott does a great job connecting with his scene partners, but most of the interactions feel disconnected, lost in the poetry. Alan Dilworth’s direction manages to evoke a strong sense of longing for the past and insecurity about the future. And the idea of an old, decaying carnival is eerily powerful, despite the fact that we don’t ever see it explicitly.
We’re excited to see the next incarnation of The Biographer, where, hopefully, it will benefit from an editor.