Review: POMONA

by Lynn on November 10, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Geary Lane, 360 Geary Ave, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Alistair McDowall
Directed by Christopher Stanton
Set by Nick Blais and Jackie Chau
Lighting by Nick Blais
Costumes by Jackie Chau
Sound by Joely Sapamkanea
Cast: Aviva Armour Ostroff
Liza Balkan
Deborah Drakeford
Carlos Gonzalez Vío
Ryan Hollyman
Andre Sills
Bahareh Yaraghi

A throat-grabbing, pants-kicking beauty of a production that takes you to the dark side and lets you out at the end, breathless and grateful.

The Story. Ollie is looking for her twin sister who has disappeared somewhere in Manchester. First she meets Zeppo who owns a lot of property and has various businesses. He has no scruples about who rents his properties or with whom he does business. He has no opinion. That’s how he is so successful—he does not pick sides. He will deal with anyone, regardless of how corrupt. He drives the Ring Road nightly. It circles the city. In the middle of it is a concrete island called Pomona. It is isolated, desolate, dark and forbidding.

There are many connected dark stories. Fay is a sex trade worker showing Ollie, a novice the tricks of the trade. Fay has a ‘date’ with one of two security guards who are guarding Pomona, making sure trucks drive into Pomona, but no unauthorized trucks. Gale is the Madame and she reprimands Fay with such intensity, you are fearful for one of them. . Fay wants to know why so many women are disappearing from the place. They aren’t ‘disappearing’ Gale says, They merely left. There is more mystery concerning what is on the Gale’s laptop.

The Production. Leave it to Christopher Stanton, Artistic Director of ARC, the company producing Pomona and the director of the production for creating a creepy venue for the play and the creepy production to go through with it.

At the end of a short industrial street is the venue named Geary Lane. A heavy, noisy, very wide garage door is hoisted open. Inside the space we sit on folding chairs on simple risers. Director Christopher Stanton knows how to create the dark, forbidding world of Pomona. The set design by Nick Blais and Jackie Chau is dingy, dirty—there is dirt on the floor—scaffolding and plastic covering separates playing areas.

Ollie rides with Zeppo, the amoral businessman who owns property and leases it to whomever he chooses. Zeppo stands stage right behind a pole, chest high, on the end of which is a ‘wheel’ of sorts. Zeppo has his hands around the wheel—it’a a steering wheel and Zeppo is on the correct right side of the car for England. Ollie, who is looking for her twin sister, sits on his left. As Zeppo, Carlos Gonzalez Vio is a fast talking, who shovels Chicken McNuggers into his mouth. (He pronounces them, ‘McNuggers’, so who am I to quibble.), as he delicately dabs a bit of mayonnaise on the morsel before eating it.

Foreboding is ramped up when we are in the Pomona with its clandestine stories and workers. We realize the women are disappearing in the most gripping way—we don’t see it but we can imagine it, which is worse.

Aviva Armour Ostroff plays both Ollie and her twin sister with just a slight variation in body language but it is enough to differentiate them.

Fay (Deborah Drakeford) is obviously trying to hold herself together. She works in a confined square space. She is running away from her husband but her life here is no better. Drakeford plays Fay with a combination toughness and fearfulness. The two security men—Charlie (Ryan Hollyman) and Moe (Andre Sills)—are an unlikely duo as security men. Moe has anger management issues so you fear for anyone he goes near. He is paying Fay a visit and the way he stares at her and hunches over when he does it is particularly creepy. Charlie is skittish, anxious and easily spooked. He is played with hair trigger jumpiness by Ryan Hollyman. Moe is played by Andre Sills who always seems ready to explode with rage and tear anyone near him apart just because. As Gale, Liza Balkan plays her with a hard ruthlessness. And Bahareh Yaraghi is the mysterious Keaton who is a willing, exuberant participant in Charlie’s various games, and a woman with a darker purpose. All the actors are in roles that are usually outside their comfort zone, playing characters that stretch both them and us, as we watch them.

Joely Sapamkanea’s sound scape plays just under the surface, creating a sense of foreboding without being obtrusive. And the lighting of Nick Blais puts you right in that forbidding world. Christopher Stanton has such a sharp eye for the eerie detail, whether it’s illuminating a face with a flashlight to create a haunting effect, or having characters crowd each other so that the proximity suggests that someone will be overpowered by another. He puts his audience in the darkest part of the heart of this play.

Comment. British playwright Alistair McDowall is 29 years old. He wrote this when he was 27. I want to know what he was smoking when he wrote it. I want to know where such a dark, violent, angry, gripping, compelling play comes from in a writer this young. No matter. I want to see anything else he’s ever written.

While the language of the play puts it squarely in England, the cast has not affected English accents, and certainly not the tricky Manchester accent. Good choice. We should not be distracted from the work by an artificial accent. The play is about a dark, violent, amoral world. It’s about some characters being swallowed up in its blackness, while trying to crawl out of it because they do not think in that way. The struggle is all and it is fascinating.

Pomona is obviously not a play for everyone. It is for the fearless, curious, open-minded theatre goer who supports gritty companies such as ARC. It is for the theatregoer who wants to give his/her quads and gluts a workout because you will be sitting on the end of your seat for 100 intermissionless minutes. When it’s over and you applaud the cast and the cast applauds the audience the heavy garage door lumbers open noisily. We lurch into the sunlight. Breathe deeply and think about the play for a long time after.

ARC Stage presents:

First performance: Nov. 1, 2016.
Saw it: Nov. 5, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 19, 2016.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women.
Running Time: 100 minutes.

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