COMMENT: Convictions

by Lynn on October 8, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Théâtre Français de Toronto, closed on Oct. 1, 2023.

Written by Lara Arabian

Directed byDjennie Laguerre
Lighting and set by Sébastian Marziali
Sound by Armen Bazarian
Costumes and props by Sophie Duguin

Cast: Lara Arabian

Sheila Ingabire Isaro

Nabil Traboulsi

The run was very short for this intriguing play, but certainly worth comment.

The Khourrys: Michel the husband, Silvie, his wife and Zara their daughter, are  a family of Lebanese-Canadian origin, and have recently moved to a Toronto suburb. Michel is desperately trying to get a job as a marketer/publicist and is constantly disappointed when the answer is no. They left Lebanon because of the political situation there and the religious intolerance they experienced.

Zara is a lonely kid. She suffers from social anxiety. She has no friends in the new school she’s going to.  She can’t get any of her classmates to accept her as a Facebook friend.  But then the family’s beliefs are soon tested when 13-year-old Zara begins to hear a mysterious voice speaking to her.

It’s the voice of a biblical character—the daughter of Jephthah. Jephthah prays to God to help him win a battle and in exchange Jephthah will present as a burnt offering the first thing that comes out of his house. As it turns out, Jephthah’s daughter rushes out to greet him. Jephthah keeps his promise. He sacrifices his daughter and wins the battle. The daughter’s voice is what Zara hears and acts upon. She is driven by the voice and its message.

Michel sees in Zara and her voices, his chance at using that to make his mark. He arranges events where Zara will give inspirational speeches as a conduit to Jephthah’s daughter. The result is that the internet explodes with ‘likes’, ‘shares’, etc. Zara is ‘friended’ often. She is popular. Michel is empowered and Silvie is horrified at what is happening to their family. And then Zara stops hearing the voices. The end. (since the show has closed, this is not a spoiler alert).

Lara Arabian is reflecting our fractured world in Convictions. It’s a world that values celebrity, the instant recognition that comes from social media (anti-social media??). The power of the pandemic to isolate us from our friends and family, make us hermits, unable to engage in the world. And Lara Arabian explores the world of the immigrant—what they have to do to find safety, belonging, acceptance, to fit. Michel, Silvie and Zara have their own issues as immigrants.

The production was terrific. Djennie Laguerre directed the production with simplicity—moving a set piece around the space to suggest different locations and scenes. We are sure of each character because of the careful direction and compelling acting.

As Zara, Sheila Ingabire-Isaro is an eager young woman who pushes herself to train as a runner because she wanted to please her high school coach. She is a dutiful daughter but is anxious and withdrawn. She gasps and is unsettled when she is visited by the specter of Jephthah’s daughter. As Silvie, Lara Arabian looks drawn with worry for her daughter and her husband who is desperate for work. She is concerned with the whole idea of religious fervor, after all that was one of the reasons they left Lebanon. The swirl and speed of the internet can twist anybody up, and it did its work here.  

As Michel, Nabil Traboulsi is desperate, ingratiating, measured and anxious with each phone call he has to make to try to get work. The smile is tight while he hears more bad news of yet another job that slips through his hand. He wants to move to the next level of accomplishment and not be stuck in his depressing job forever. Nabil Traboulsi gives Michel a clarity, a desperation, a need that is so true that it grips you, as do all the characters.

Lara Arabian asks a lot of questions in her play. Loved thinking about that.

Théâtre Français de Toronto presents:

Closed: played until Oct. 1, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes, (no intermission)

NOTE: Théâtre Français de Toronto has a wonderful initiative for those not fluent in French—special glasses that have the translation in English in the lenses. It does not distract from the acting on stage, in fact it enhances it and you know instantly what is being said. I have found the surtitles a bit difficult to read because of the placement on the far left and right of the stage of the panels on which the surtitles are projected. A panel suspended in the middle of the stage would be helpful. In any case those special glasses are terrific. Bravo to Théâtre Français de Toronto.

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