by Lynn on March 13, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Factory Theatre Mainspace until March 24. Written by Nicolas Billon. Directed by Ravi Jain. Designed by Joanna Yu. Lighting by Kimberley Purtell. Sound by Richard Feren. Starring: Kawa Ada, Claire Calnan, Lauren Vandenbrook.

Produced by Factory Theatre and Why Not Theatre.

I think Iceland by Nicolas Billon, is the best play he’s written so far. With just three characters he encapsulates the world financial crisis and how it’s affected everybody. The bank collapse in Iceland is his metaphor. First Iceland’s three banks go under. That had a ripple effect which in turn resulted in the financial crisis across the globe. Not bad for such a small island country.

Iceland the play, is composed of four monologues delivered by three characters. Kassandra is an Estonian student studying for her university degree in Toronto. She sends money home to her family who need it for reasons she never imagined. Her brother has racked up huge gambling debts back home and Kassandra feels she must help her mother pay it off. Kassandra needs a lot of money fast. She lucks into such a job when she meets a man who helps her out by hiring her as part of his stable of escorts.

Halim is a real estate broker who is devoted to money and sex. He has that preening, self-confidence of a man who flashes his money clip to show us the money. As he says, why have a wallet. No one can see your money if it’s in a wallet. So he has a shiny money clip for that purpose. He has bought a condo from a developer and is flipping it to make a nice profit. To alleviate some of his pent up enthusiasm he hires a hooker to bring her services to the condo. The hooker is Kassandra.

Anna is an uptight, upright, righteous woman with all sorts of hang-ups, not the least of which is outrage that the developer who originally owned the condo has evicted her ‘from her home’—the condo that Halim is flipping. This daisy chain makes a person dizzy.

As Anna tells us her story she gets more and more agitated at the unfairness of it all. She swears in the telling. She is mortified she has cursed. She takes out a box from her pocket in which is a bar of soap, into which she bites off a hunk. A symbolic washing out of her mouth. She also carries a can of pepper spray for protection. Anna is one sad soul.

She went to the condo to see who was buying it and to see the place one more time. Halim is there and Anna is repelled by him. Anna is a tiny bit racist as well as being a rabid soap eater. Halim is of Pakistani descent. That brings with it all sorts of comments from Anna about his ethnicity. Things turn ugly. I urge you to see Iceland to find out how and why things turn out the way they do and because it’s wonderfully done.

Director Ravi Jain brings his careful, keen eye to this production in making what might be static—monologues delivered directly to the audience by a character sitting in a chair—into something that is riveting, compelling and engrossing. One chair is downstage facing the audience. The other two chairs are upstage facing each other. When the speaker is sitting in the chair downstage, the other characters sit absolutely still upstage.

Nicolas Billon’s storytelling is wonderful, but you need a cast equally as good to bring it off. And we have that cast here. As Kassandra, Lauren Vandenbrook is new to this production (it played to great acclaim this past summer in SummerWorks). She is graceful in her stillness; emotionally contained but still conveys the seriousness of her situation. She is both innocent and street smart in a quietly confident way.

As Anna, Claire Calnan’s face is a mass of creases of worry, woe, desperation and anger. She all but quivers with pent up rage that finally let’s loose with catastrophic results. This is yet another performance from Calnan that makes her one of our gifted actresses, who can and does do everything from comedy to gripping drama with ease.

As Halim, Kawa Ada is wonderful. He glows with self-confidence. He laughs at his superiority in making money—he flashes his money clip. He philosophizes about his exalted place in the world. When he sits it’s with his legs spread, his arm flung back over the back of the chair, his crotch thrusts up to emphasize his point. He jokes and when he doesn’t get the right response he’s insulting. He is both repellent and hugely attractive. And his total lack of moral fibre is frightening and awsome.

While the love of money is the root of all evil, greed, ruthlessness, commercialism, and desperation are similar roots that will lead you there as well. Iceland is terrific. Bravo to Factory co-artistic directors Nina Lee Aquino and Nigel Shawn Williams for bringing it to the Mainspace so quickly.

See it.

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