by Lynn on May 9, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the abandoned Furniture Emporium, 1251 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Philippe Ducros

New translation by Christopher Stanton

Co-directed by Christopher Stanton and Tamara Vuckovic

Lighting and venue design by Nick Blais

Set and costume design by Jackie Chau

Video and projection design by Melissa Joakim

Sound by Michael Rinaldi

Live visuals by Lorena Torres Loaiza

Original music by Joelysa Pankanea

Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Carlos González-Vio

Christopher Stanton

A stunning production of this harrowing play that puts you right in the uncomfortable world of the play.

The Story. A man is imprisoned in a transparent cube with nothing but a metal table as a bed. He is there to be interrogated to confess to a terrible crime. He is interrogated separately by a man and a woman. He has remained silent for the most part, but is kept there until he starts to talk . The process is slow, meticulous and unsettling.

The Production. We gather in an abandoned furniture store. We are invited to go downstairs to begin ‘the experience.’ The stairs are steep. The hallway is narrow. The ceiling is low (people over 5’7” be careful). We are asked to fill in a form from the Central Security Intelligence Service called a Site Access Protocol Form. There is a memory component and a psychological assessment. We are asked to individually enter a room and have our photo taken. Next we are asked to wander into the various rooms: one with a chair inside a taped off area; one with nothing in it; one with read lighting and photographs. No room has any windows. It’s all claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine living down there, but know people would/could live down there if forced.

When the production is to begin we are invited to go upstairs and sit in a section on either side of a glass cube in the centre of the space. There is a metal table in the middle of the cube.  We are asked to put on the headphones on the back of each seat to listen to the discourse between characters.

When the lights go up to begin the performance Him (Carlos González-Vio) lays on the metal table. He is bare-foot and wears a grey prison uniform of a top and pants. This sets up the premise that he is a prisoner. Subsequent scenes are indicated with short, sharp blackouts.

At first he is interrogated by Her (Aviva-Armour-Ostroff), a soft-spoken woman who hints at the terrible crime he has committed. She wants his confession. Him sits on the table, head bowed, hands folded together, silent. He has been silent a month. She coaxes him into talking. He doesn’t seem to know what he has done. She does. One wonders if he is telling the truth. As Her Aviva-Armour-Ostroff is never rattled, methodical, quiet spoken and determined.

There are scenes in which he has conversations with his daughter, depicted with a projection on the walls of the cube and a recorded voice of a young girl. Other scenes are with The Other One (Christopher Stanton), the other interrogator. Him does not respond to him at all. The Other One does the talking.  As The Other One, Christopher Stanton is breezy, not lethally threatening, but in that breeziness has a speech about  how they will remove everything individual about him: personality, identity, ideas of ‘self’ that is absolutely chilling.

The interrogation is on-going, relentless and debilitating to Him. As Him, Carlos González-Vio is trapping, formidable in his resolve, crisp and clear in his speech and slowly aggressive. It’s like watching a trapped animal in that cube, always on display, no privacy. And it’s to González-Vio’s credit as an actor and therefore my willingness to believe in his predicament, that I could swear that his beard and hair grow and became messy during his long incarceration.

The direction by Christopher Stanton and Tamara Vuckovic is effective in presenting a compelling situation that raises the ‘squirm-factory’ for the audience.

Comment. One can always count on the “in-your-face” ARC Company to provide provocative, unsettling theatre, in a space that is specific to that kind of play, and Dissidents is no different. This is the English language world premier of Quebecois playwright, Philippe Ducros’ gripping work.

The audience is first put in the mood of being in a claustrophobic place with the ‘pre-show’ so one can appreciate what Him is going through during the production. The relentless, quiet interrogation is of course unsettling. The description of what they will do to him, should he not confess, is eye-popping in its dissection.

Dissidents is for audiences who like their theatre challenging, muscular, meaty and gripping. A quibble….to make the audience leave truly shaken but grateful to leave, I would not suggest the three charming actors take a bow. It almost lets us off the hook that these three actors smile at the bow. While we do want to applaud their efforts no bow would be quite breathtaking, leaving us truly shaken.

 ARC presents.

Opened: May 5, 2018.

Closed: May 20, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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.