Tuesday, March 12, 2013


(L to R) Claire Calnan, Lauren Vandenbrook & Kawa Ada in Nicolas Billon's  Iceland. Photo: Joanna Akyol

Reviewed by James Karas

“That didn’t go over so well,” says Halim, one of the characters in Iceland, the new play by Nicolas Billon now playing at the Factory Theatre in Toronto.

That line can, unfortunately, be taken as applying to parts of the play as a whole and not just to the joke that Halim is delivering.

Iceland has three characters who deliver monologues about related events – not terribly closely but the incidents described do come together in the end. The characters are seated and address the audience with almost no interaction among the three of them except for a few moments. Do three monologues a play make? No doubt, they can, but if theatre means acting a situation out, a narrative description may not be the best representation of an action.

We start with Kassandra (Lauren Vanderbrook), an Estonian student doing her masters at the University of Toronto. Vanderbrook gave a straightforward recitation of her plight and at times spoke a bit too quickly and did not enunciate enough. Director Ravi Jain should have corrected that tendency.

Kassandra is the daughter of a professor of history in Estonia and she wants to work her way to a degree and help her brother back home. What’s a good part time job that pays well? Massage parlours and escort services pay very well.

Kassandra becomes an escort and accompanies an obnoxious Pakistani real estate agent named Halim (Kawa Ada). He is a loud braggart who tries to be amusing and manages to be merely unsavoury. He buys a condominium from an over-leveraged American and wants the tenant Anna (Claire Calnan) evicted on the pretense that he will occupy the unit himself. He just wants to flip it for a quick profit.

Anna is a religious fanatic of questionable sanity. Calnan tells her story with considerable dispassion. The best way to deliver lunacy is by appearing to be very rational.

When Anna sees that the condominium is for sale, she goes to see what happened to her former home. When she realizes what the new owner is doing, she douses him with pepper spray and he falls on the floor and injures himself.  She sits on his face with a pillow for good measure. She then sits on the toilet while Halim remains sprawled on the floor, still alive. Kassandra the escort is making a house call and stumbles on this highly dramatic tableau and must decide whether to call an ambulance or get the hell out of there.
A nice girl from Estonia who is working illegally as a prostitute cannot take chances so she sets the apartment on fire because her fingerprints are all over the place and takes off.

Where is Iceland? you ask. Well, Billon thinks that the financial collapse of 2008 is to be blamed on that tiny country and its failed banking system. The American investor who bought a condominium that he could not afford, the real estate agent who bought it on a fire sale and Kassandra who became a prostitute and Anna who murdered the real estate agent – all are victims, however remotely or perhaps symbolically of what happened in Iceland.

If Iceland is a parable about greed, sex, and the trickle-down effect of financial corruption on ordinary people, it is not totally convincing. The three individual stories that find a linkage in the end are interesting enough. Shaping the play as three separate narratives does maintain the suspense of how the stories are inter-related and you do get the punch line in the end.

Adding an implied critique of the financial collapse of 2008 and including the line, “blame it all on Iceland” is stretching things beyond what is necessary. It merely adds a note of incredulity to three stories that are dramatic on their own.

Iceland by Nicolas Billon opened on March 7 and will run March 24, 2013 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.factorytheatre.ca.  

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