by Lynn on October 27, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space Toronto, Ont.

Written by Geoffrey Simon Brown
Directed by Peter Pasyk
Set by Patrick Lavender
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Costumes by Joanna Yu
Cast: Nikki Duval
Jakob Ehman
Daniel Ellis
Vivien Endicott-Douglas
Brian Solomon
Jake Vanderham

A play about marginalized teenagers with issues that are understandable in a production that quivers with danger.

The Story. Ily is a jumpy teen living in his girlfriend Amanda’s garage. He is a devoteé of the ‘bong’ and has an extensive collection with which to get high. He has grand plans for himself and Amanda when they become 18. Unbeknownst to Amanda Ily has invited some friends over for a Friday night party of beer and bong. Will is an energetic teen who brings his boyfriend Daniel. Daniel is straight-laced and under his minister father’s thumb, having to check in or be checked on at a moments notice. Tyler arrives with his Goth friend Kit. Tyler and Ily have a history. They grew up together and it seems that Tyler thinks that Ily has not treated him fairly over the years. Tyler has been kicked out of his house by his mother. He has no money and he is prone to lying and stealing. Needless to say Tyler is a teen with a chip on his shoulder so profound it’s on its way to becoming an inoperable lump. Tension emanates from him and spreads to the rest of the teens. And then things go horribly wrong.

The Production. Peter Pasyk’s tautly directed production begins in the gloom of Rebecca Picherack’s eerie lighting. There is some kind of ceremony going on with a group of people who are clumped in a circle. A glowing sphere is held aloft and then pressed onto the chest of a person, followed by a yell of pain. Each person experiences this ‘branding.’

When the lights go up we are in the grungy garage of Amanda’s house (really her Mother’s). There are various garagy things on the floor; there is a wall of wood beams and behind that the wall surface is covered in green plastic like garbage bags. There are two sheathed swords on the wall; a little fridge by the back wall and a shelving unit at the back, the top shelf of which is Ily’s ‘bed’.

Ily and Amanda are hanging out there. Ily shows her his latest bong, named Trudeau. (No comment from me). He is jumpy, teasing, gently pleading to have Amanda do what he wants. She is confident, accommodating to a point and playful. Jakob Ehman as Ily continues to be a chameleon of an actor, dissolving into his characters, unrecognizable from character to character. There is a boldness, even brazenness about this man’s work that is always compelling. The weaving and ducking body language of Ily seems so right as Ehman plays him; whether it’s wearing his jeans hanging low on his hips, or slouching or jumping from the floor to the fridge to the bed, it all seems natural for Ehman. As Amanda, Vivien Endicott-Douglas is both girly and womanly. She gives Amanda maturity, even common sense. She is tested, as are they all, when there is a startling incident involving Tyler and the group.

In the case of Ily and Tyler there is a history of one doing dirt to the other. There is no trust. Perhaps the only ones who trust each other are Will (a lively Daniel Ellis) and Daniel a very conservative, clean-cut Jake Vanderham. While Kit and Tyler seem to be together, Kit is too wise to the wildness of Tyler to fall for that. As Kit, Nikki Duval is the secretive teen who hides behind her big hair and exaggerated Goth identity and she is eminently watchable. As Tyler, Brian Solomon plays this grenade-waiting-to-be- unpinned with sleek cat-like movements; a quiet voice that only heightens the sense of danger; and a need to crowd and stare-down the people he wants to intimidate.

Comment. In The Circle, Geoffrey Simon Brown, has written a raw, angry play full of the language of teens that illuminates their lurching inarticulation in expressing themselves. Endless swearing might turn people off, but that is the world these teens live in and that language is how they express themselves. Their language defines and confines them. One could argue that most, if not all, of these six individuals do not deserve a play; that one would not want to spend time in a room with them. That is exactly the point of why they deserve a play, and our attention. These people did not spring up fully formed from nowhere. They have been discarded, ignored, marginalized and damaged by people who should care for them. So they grasp at straws to find solace from others who will take them in, no matter how precarious the relationship. They hold on to crumpled pieces of paper with the name and phone number of someone who might help, as Mutt holds on to the paper with Ily’s number.

These relationships are also tenuous. They are wary of each other rather than fully trusting. So even when they try to bond with people like them, they are still isolated.

The only wrinkle to this gripping production is that initial circle-branding ceremony. What is it? What does it mean? Who are the people in it? We can’t assume it’s the group of teens without a clearer indication. While Tyler has the same circle on him, we can’t assume he was involved in the ceremony. A bit more clarity from the Geoffrey Simon Brown is in order. Other than that, the play grips you and makes you look and see these wounded characters.

On another point, what’s with this penchant of theatres to produce a program that lists the actors in the show but not the names of the characters they play, choosing instead to just put the word “Actor’? For The Circle Tarragon Theatre has just put the actor’s job in brackets, (Actor), instead of the character’s name. Nonsense. There has been much minging when a theatre produces a poster of a show listing perhaps the playwright’s name and the director but not one actor. Ok, here’s a chance for the actor to get vocal. Besides insuring your name is spelled correctly in the program, URGE your theatre to list the character you play so the audience is clearly informed of who plays whom. If they have room to list ‘Actor’ they can just as easily list Ily, Tyler, Amanda, Kit, Daniel and Will beside the actor’s name. Frustrating. Rant over.

Terrific production.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Oct. 26, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 6; 4 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 min. approx.

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1 Eric P October 30, 2016 at 10:32 pm

My interpretation is that being branded with the circle (in the opener) is their initiation into a secret society, and that the rest of the play is actually a flashback explaining how they arrived at this juncture.