by Lynn on November 8, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at St. Anne’s Parish Hall, 651 Dufferin Street, Toronto, Ont. until Nov. 14, 2021.

Directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas

Set design by Michael Gordon Spence, Sujania Uthaya Shankar

Costume design by A.W. Nadine Grant

Lighting and media design by Laird MacDonald

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Ensemble: Heather Marie Annis

Sierra Haynes

Alexandra Lainfiesta

Michael Gordon Spence

Nabil Traboulsi

A beautiful, deeply thought, embracing production that welcomes the whole audience to partake of this wonderful tonic.

From the Theatre Gargantua Programme:

“Emerging from a global state of isolation and uncertainty, Gargantua presents a vital exploration of hope: A Tonic for Desperate Times.  This world premiere, two years in the making, investigates our instinct for optimism, and the surprising places hope can be found — in the fractal patterns of nature, the swing of a pendulum, the murmuration of starlings in flight.  Merging dynamic physical movement with sound and video installations, this live and in-person performance is at the forefront of Toronto’s return to theatres.

 A Tonic for Desperate Times is a communal experience of resilience and courage. A balm for injured souls.”

Imagine it, Artistic Director Jacquie P.A. Thomas and her ensemble began working on this production exploring hope before the pandemic hit and shut down everything, dampening hope and shattering optimism as the isolating shutdown lingered.

Over her creative life Jacquie P.A. Thomas and her terrific Theatre Gargantua company have been perceptive enough to see the world in which we live and create a production that not only reflects it, but also improves it. A Tonic for Desperate Times is that and much more.

The trademarks of a Theatre Gargantua production are front and centre: movement that is balletic and muscular; original music that is played and sung by the cast (a quibble is that the amplified sound system distorts the words of the first song—we should hear clearly the words of hope); a provocative set of a steel tree on which are suspended boxes that look like they are made from dappled material; an initial soundscape of chirping birds and insects making the air seem like it is brimming with life; video projections of the murmuration of starlings that is nothing short of amazing; and stories.

A Tonic for Desperate Times is full of stories of hope, optimism, positive attitudes and passing them on. Alexandra Lainfiesta tells of being an immigrant from Guatemala, living in Vancouver and befriending a man named Bill, over a stale cupcake. We learn that Bill had the most optimistic, positive outlook on life in spite of crushing difficulties. He passed on his positive philosophy of life to Lainfiesta and she has passed that on to us.

Perhaps the most poignant and moving story is from Nabil Traboulsi. He talks of his heartbreak at what has become of his beloved Beirut after the explosion of two years ago. He also talks of his anger and rage at the corruption in the city that prevented any rebuilding to take place. He talks of how his family had to move to Berlin to be safe. Just as he rages he is quickly distracted and charmed by his gurgling infant nephew Nasim. Traboulsi dwells on the generational rage and trauma that is passed on and again is distracted and disarmed by the joyful baby. And there is the secret; rage and anger are passed on because they are taught to the next generation. As the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” (from South Pacific) says, anger, rage, racism etc. has to be carefully taught. And here is Nasim, innocent and sweet, whose name means ‘breeze’ and is as gentle, Nasim can teach his uncle and us, that there are other things that can be taught besides rage—like hope, optimism and love.

The production was not performed on the raised stage of St. Anne’s Parish Hall but on the floor in front of it. That proximity to the audience cut down on the distance between them. The production ended with the cast extending their arms to embrace those in the room—speaking of “we” as a collective and a community, and not dividing it into “us” and “you”. In these angry, desperate times, this deeply felt, thoughtful production was indeed a hopeful tonic.  

Produced by Theater Gargantua

Plays: until November 14, 2021.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

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