by Lynn on February 9, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Set by Denyse Karn
Costumes by Michelle Bailey
Lighting by Simon Rossiter
Projections by Simeon Taole
Sound by Richard Lee
Composer, Hagler
Starring: Susanna Fournier
Ngabo Nabea

A twist on Dickens’ Oliver Twist, set in Toronto now, with cell phones, texts, sex, and drugs set in the seamier side of the city.

The Story. It’s set in Toronto. Nancy is 21. She met a man named Sikes on the internet and he enticed her to come to Toronto. He lured her into the world of internet porn and got her hooked on drugs. She also procures young teens for Sikes’ internet porn activities. Dodger is a member of Sikes’ gang and provides Nancy with her drugs, for a price of course. Nancy recruits a young girl name Rose for Sikes but can’t go through with turning her over to him. She enlists the help of her friend Oliver. Oliver is a 17 year old. He was brought up in foster homes and the safest one was with a woman he calls “Big Bird.” Oliver is also in Sikes’ circle. He loves Nancy and yearns to get out of Sikes’ gang and take Nancy with him. But first Nancy needs to get Rose to a safe house and enlists Oliver to take Rose to Big Bird’s. When Sikes finds out things turn nasty.

The Production. Denyse Karn has designed a set that is an aerial view of Toronto. A series of small right angled shapes are laid out on the upstage wall of the set. Both Nancy and Oliver skip from one shape to another, suggesting they are skipping from building top to building top.

Nancy and Oliver soliloquize in their own style of language. Nancy’s is a tough kind of slang that is almost literary in its expression. Oliver expresses himself in hip hop complete with athletic moves. When the two communicate with each other it’s mainly in text messaging. First Nancy’s thumbs twitch over the keys of her cell phone. When she gives a snapping motion with the phone we know she’s finished texting and has sent the message to Oliver. What she has texted is then projected on the back wall so the audience can read it. Then it’s Oliver’s turn to send his message. Thumbs twitch. He too makes a snapping motion. Message finished and sent to Nancy. Occasionally they talk on the phone. The conversations are spare, sometimes one word exchanges. They meet once. It’s the first indication of them touching; the first show of intimacy. Most of the play takes place for them in the sterile, isolated world of the cell phone.

Nancy is white and Oliver is black but there is only one reference to skin colour and it comes from Oliver. He says to Big Bird that white women show their age, but she doesn’t. That’s the only indication of skin colour in the play. To Nancy it doesn’t matter and she never mentions it. The playwrights, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre, live in these worlds. Corbeil-Coleman is white and Pierre is black.

Twisted is directed by Nigel Shawn Williams. There certainly is a sense of foreboding when Nancy stands in her room going through the motions of internet erotica when there is a banging on her door. She knows it’s Sikes coming for revenge. The banging gets louder and more frantic. Simon Rossiter’s lighting gives a sense of foreboding. Talk about ramping up the suspense.

As Nancy Susanna Fournier is locked into scowling and saying everything with anger. There is little variation in her performance. As Oliver, Ngabo Nabea is more varied, more nuanced. I think he handles the intricate hip hop language nicely.

Comment. Modernizing Oliver Twist by setting it in Toronto using cell phones to text as the main means of communication, with the occasional monosyllabic phone calls, certainly will have resonance with many young people in the audience. The problem with this ‘modernization’ is that it makes for deadly theatre. The pace of the show is glacial. Watching the thumbs of Nancy twitch out a text to Oliver, the audience then reading the text on the back wall, then watching Oliver reply by text, then the audience reading that message, just slows the pace down to a crawl. It’s deadly to the story, the momentum of the show, and makes each new turn in the story seem like an eternity. Each character is stuck in their own isolated, sterile, lonely world. When Nancy and Oliver have that one meeting, it seems tacked on and too late for us to have an investment in them. Nancy saying that she loves Sikes ever though he beats her has not been properly established to be believed.

Twisted is more like a tangled rendering of Oliver Twist. Neither the original work or this modernization of it are well served by this experiment.

Produced by Factory Theatre

From: Jan. 31, 2015.
Saw it: Feb 6, 2015.
Closes: Feb. 22, 2015.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman.
Running Time: 80 min. approx.

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