by Lynn on June 16, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Plays until June 24, 2023.

Written by Colleen Wagner

Directed by Jani Lauzon

Set, props and lighting by Trevor Schwellnus

Costumes by Jawon Kang

Sound by Olivia Wheeler

Cast: Ryan Hollyman

Zorana Sadiq

Paolo Santalucia

Mirabella Sundar Singh

A play within a play. A complex story of love, sex, power, consent, the patriarchy, feminism, and two conflicting ancient Greek myths of the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus, that so overwhelms the narrative that it crushes the point of the exercise into oblivion. Another rewrite with judicious editing is in order.

The Story. From the show’s website: On a cross-country theatre tour of a new interpretation of the classic Greek myth of the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus, the onstage danger spills into the backstage world as four actors have to navigate the realities of tour life, challenges to patriarchy and the disruption of a new actress performing Thetis halfway through the tour. The chaos she brings forces each to confront how the stories we tell about love, sex, power, and consent shape our everyday lives and interactions.

A provocative and unabashedly feminist new play from Governor General’s Award-winner Colleen Wagner, Armadillos brings audiences beyond the edge of their seats to the edge of the stage and asks us: what stories do we have to leave behind in order to fully and truly love?”

I often quote the show’s blurb because occasionally the story is succinctly expressed and that saves time, or in this case, the actual story is so convoluted and complex, I want to know what ‘they were thinking’ to have a framework to work with against what was actually written. The theatre’s blurb is not the play they are presenting.

The Production and comment. Trevor Schwellnus’ silvery ‘crunchy’ looking set of intertwining shards is provocative of some other world; the world of Greek gods?

We are backstage for a theatrical show? A rehearsal for a play? Jay (Ryan Hollyman) is warming up his vocal cords. Sofia (Zorana Sadiq) is putting on her make-up. Karmyne (Mirabella Sundar Singh) is late for the rehearsal/show for some reason. Dyrk (Paolo Santalucia) is present and seems concerned about Karmyne. Others note that Dyrk is a man of whom to be wary. Hmmmm

In the actual play within a play, Ryan Hollyman plays a ruthless, cold-hearted, easily aroused Zeus. Anything seems to arouse him: young women, his wife Hera (Zorana Sadiq), no doubt selected fruit make him stiff, requiring he turn upstage, bend over and rub up against a wall to give himself relief (just to warn folks). His next planned conquest is the 17-year-old Thetis (a very contained, confident Mirabella Sundar Singh). He is anxious to destroy Thetis’ mother who has amassed support against Zeus. To get Thetis out of the way as a possible rival to her, Hera (Zorana Sadiq) tells Peleus (Paolo Santalucia), a devoted soldier who will do anything for her, he has to marry Thetis, in order to save Thetis from a prophecy. Peleus dutifully agrees. The plan does not work. Thetis is not willing and escapes. When Thetis next appears in Zeus’ court, Zeus rapes her.

In the Second Act we are backstage after the performance. Jay (Ryan Hollyman), Sofia (Zorana Sadiq), Karmyne (Mirabella Sundar Singh) and Dyrk (Paolo Santalucia) all play characters ‘off stage’ totally different from the characters they played in the play within the play. Unlike Zeus, Jay is insecure, awkward with women, fragile even since he has been dumped by his long-time partner. Ryan Hollyman plays Jay with a bit of anxiety. It’s a lovely performance of a man who does not fit in. He tries to date on line and looks at his cell phone and flips to the left and the right trying to find a suitable match. Director Jani Lauzon directs this with care and subtle sensitivity.  As Sofia, Zorana Sadiq, has easy grace, a sense of herself. She is compassionate, understanding, and generally keeps to herself. She agrees to go out for a drink with Jay, perhaps to cheer him up. Karmyne (Mirabella Sundar Singh) is a woman on the hunt. She searches for her dates daily on line. She wants a good time and the consequences are not that important. Mirabella Sundar Singh plays Karmyne with a lot of confidence. If I have a quibble it’s that there can be a bit more of a casual demeanor about Karmyne and less of the contained attitude she used to play Thetis. As Dyrk, Paolo Santalucia is as carefree with women as Karmyne is with men, until they actually meet casually after the performance. And there is a change.

What to make of all this? Just from a nuts and bolts playwrighting point of view there are too many conversations that the characters have ‘off stage’ about their characters in the play within the play, that you wonder what took place in rehearsal at all? All their comments of their characters would have been initiated much earlier in rehearsal and answered.

Amadillos should be stronger in establishing that the actors are on cross-country tour of a new interpretation of the classic Greek myth of the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus and that Karmyne joined them late. Perhaps an explanation as to why she’s joined late. The blurb on the play at the top says they are on a cross-country tour; the actual play does not establish that until late in Act II. Such information should be established earlier. Why is there a “new interpretation of the classic Greek myth of Marriage of Thetis and Peleus at all for this tour? Is there an explanation? In the commonly known myth it’s Peleus who rapes Thetis. In this ‘new interpretation’ it’s Zeus. That should be explored, explained and clarified.       

In her playwright’s note, Colleen Wagner says she uses The Marriage of Thetis and Peleus as her framework for Armadillos and that ‘it has two very different narratives. The more commonly known Greek myth is a story of rape. Peleus, with the assistance of the gods, pursues a fleeing and naked Thetis, overpowers her and claims her.” (I assume that means ‘rapes’ her). “However, an earlier 5th century BCE vase painting depicts a suppliant Peleus with the goddess Thetis initiating him into marriage….The earlier story is about the marriage of divine and human.

These two myths reveal very different perceptions of the feminine principle. One is about domination over. The other is about union with. These two images were the basis for an exploration into love, power human connection intimacy and consent.”

Great. I look forward to seeing the play (and play within the play) that illuminates and realizes Colleen Wagner’s intention, because as it is, Armadillos isn’t it.

Factory Theatre Presents:

Plays until June 24.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

Content Warning

Depictions and conversations of non-consensual sexual violence & incest. Comments about assisted death & suicide. Use of alcohol & drugs.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Roman June 16, 2023 at 12:36 pm

Just the summary sounds exhausting.


2 Lynn June 16, 2023 at 6:32 pm

Indeed. Better to read a book on Mythology….