You may remember a recent Torontoist Valentine’s Day contest, the prize for which was tickets for two to a Valentine’s peformance of The Sheep and the Whale, currently playing at Passe Muraille. So, we’d be rather remiss not to provide any sort of review of the show after the fact. It is perhaps worth pointing out, though, that Torontoist had not seen the play at the time of the contest and had little notion as to its V-Day appropriateness. We certainly hope the winning couples had a great night, but unless you’re the kind of person who makes out at Schindler’s List, it’s understandable if you weren’t particularly put in “the mood” by the performance.
This play is depressing. It’s not bad exactly, but it is pretty darn bleak. It chronicles the voyage of a cargo freighter travelling through the Strait of Gibralter to France while host to a crew, a vacationing couple, more than one illegal stowaway and a pile of dead bodies. For most of the play, the pile of dead bodies remains onstage. Even the more sympathetic characters seem to all be rapists and murderers. And for this kind of subject matter, two hours with no intermission is a lot to handle.
The acting is mostly solid and Soheil Parsa’s direction provides some truly stunning moments, particularly during the highly inventive dream and fantasy sequences, which rely on some beautifully choreographed movement. But this story seems all-to-familiar on the Canadian stage: refugees and immigrants have to prove to the pampered Westerner how ignorant they are of the problems of the world by telling them lots of depressing stories. In this case, raping them also seems to be a necessity. Still, these kinds of stories have become part of the Canadian tradition and can sometimes be realised beautifully. In this case, however, the script lacks focus, we lose track of the many characters and there is a rather unsettling mean-spiritedness inherent to the story. That said, Debbie Nicholls, who does not have a particular role but was heavily featured in all of the dream sequences, does fantastic work and manages to be completely captivating every time she is on stage despite not really having a character. Torontoist wishes her luck in the future.