by Lynn on June 9, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


Instructions (To Any Future Socialist Government Wishing to Abolish Christmas)

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael MacKenzie
Directed by David Storch
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Anna Treusch
Sound by Samuel Sholdice
Cast: Diana Bentley
Ted Dykstra

It’s 4 am and Jason is in his spiffy office punching a punching bag in his underwear. He’s punching like a man with a lot of issues on his mind, none of them good.

Cass is standing behind him, arms bent, hands twisted, watching. He’s not aware of her until he turns and is startled to see her. Cass used to work for Jason as a kind of numbers guru until the ‘episode’ in which she seems to have lost it and had to leave for treatment. She might have a kind of autism—she speaks in snaps of sentences. She twitches. Her expression is blank. Her arms are bent and her hands grip each other. She might be an ‘idiot savant’, who, in this case, is brilliant with numbers but mute most other times.

Jason is in charge of a pension fund, investing it etc. It is 2008 and there is a financial crisis. He’s sweating because he fears his investors will want to sell their stocks and he will be ruined. Jason calls his lawyer to ensure that there is a time period before which they cannot sell. Cass knows the ins and outs of the fund. There are other wrinkles Cass tells him that cause Jason to hyperventilate.

Michael MacKenzie has written a compelling play about the financial crisis in microcosm. We get the sense of the complications from Cass ticking off the various and sundry possibilities and secrets of how this happened. No, you don’t need to be a financial wiz to understand this. Think of The Big Short.—now that was a complex movie—but we got the point when the information dribbled out and the people implicated saw they were in deep trouble. Same with Instructions.

MacKenzie has also written interesting dialogue for Cass. It’s disjointed, repetitive, clear, mesmerising. MacKenzie has dropped the audience in the middle of a strange world that is compelling and intriguing.

The production is superb. Director David Storch has directed this with a sure, confident hand. It’s obvious Jason and Cass had a relationship from the way Storch stages them. Even when there is space between the two, there is a sense of intimacy. As Jason, Dykstra is brash, on the edge, trying to get a grip and anxious with Cass. He needs her to explain the secrets of a report he has, but he also is wary of her since they did have a relationship. And he’s going through a messy divorce. All this is by way of explaining why he’s in his office at 4 am bashing a punching bag in his ‘undies’. Diana Bentley as Cass is masterful. Her twisted movements and jerks are enough to get our attention but controlled enough that she does not pull focus from Jason as well. Bentley has the physicality and twitches of a person with autism down pat. The voice is flat. The facial expression inexpressive. Both performances are stellar, each feeding the other equally. Coal Mine Theatre scores another bull’s eye of a production.

Presented by Coal Mine Theatre

First performance: May 29, 2016.
Closes: June 19, 2016.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman.
Running Time: 75 minutes.

Love with Leila

At the Factory Theatre Studio

Written and performed by Izad Etemadi
Directed by Liza Balkan.

Leila is fierce. She’s bearded. She’s looking for love. Leila is a respectful Persian girl who wants to please her parents but at the same time find the man of her dreams to marry. Her parents try and fix her up with a local merchant but because he’s fat and old Leila is not keen. She looks far and wide and finally sees Farhad. He’s dreamy. He a bit older than she is. He’s studying to be a doctor. How perfect. He invites Leila and her parents to his house, next door, to meet his parents as well. Leila is smitten. Electronic information is shared. Leila waits for Farhad to contact her. It’s stressful. Then he does. Jubilation. Or is it?

Izad Etemadi is a charming, impish, smart performer as Leila. He is barefoot for the performance. He wears pants, a loose top and a head covering. Love with Leila is wonderfully instructional. Leila tells us the difference between a Hijab, Niqab and Burka. She gives us cultural information about living in Tehran, Iran. In a city as cosmopolitan as Toronto it’s important to know. Leila tells us with humour and a bit of coyness.

Leila begins by giving the audience bags of snacks which we are instructed to share. While it’s a simple way of getting the audience in the mood, I always think it a mistake to give us something that will make noise and distract from the performer, even though the jelly beans inside the bag are delish.

Etemadi is a smart, sharp performer, very in tune with his audience. He knows how to play them but with restraint and respect. The show is directed with a keen sense of humour and attention by Liza Balkan. Love with Leila is part of the Clown Festival at the Factory Theatre (who knew?). There are two more performances this weekend. Love with Leila is worth a look.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.