Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Jonathon Young, Alon Nashman, Christian Laurin, Yanna McIntosh and Laura Condlln in THIS. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Reviewed by James Karas

What can you say about the production of a play that left you completely cold? Not much, I guess.

This is a play by Melissa James Gibson that is now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto.   Matthew Jocelyn directs the production by Canadian Stage. It lasts about an hour and forty minutes and I confess that I got virtually nothing out of it.

Since about two and a half thousand years ago, when Aeschylus added a second actor and subordinated the chorus to the drama, playwrights and directors have been trying constantly to push the boundaries of the theatre. Quite right. 

Gibson and Jocelyn may be trying the same feat for Toronto audiences, even if not on an Aeschylean magnitude, but the result is not as felicitous.

We have five characters who are on stage or seated in the audience most of the time even when they are not part of the action. The auditorium lights are not dimmed and the set is kept to a few items. Nothing particularly unusual in any of this.

Jane (Laura Condlin) is a single mother and a poet. Marrell (Yanna McIntosh) is an African-American married to Tom (Jonathan Young). They have friends named Alan (Alon Nashman) and Jean-Pierre (Christian Laurin), a French doctor.

The play opens with an annoying game where four of the characters think up a story in the absence of the other player and the other player, Jane in this case, is supposed to guess what the story is. She may only ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”.

The setup is that the players will answer yes if the question ends in a consonant; no if the question ends in a vowel and maybe if it ends in y. The game may have psychological interest or revelation but I found it extremely annoying.

There are flashes of dialogue and humour as the play progresses but neither the plot nor the characters engaged me. The poetic language and the subtleties of the play may not be apparent on a first view. It is possible and my impressions are admittedly based on seeing only one performance.

The Berkeley Street Theatre has been restored to its original state. The back of the stage was the bare brick wall and windows facing Berkeley Street. It served as the backdrop for This.

I got nothing out of the whole thing. You may find it utterly fascinating. 

This  by Melissa James Gibson continues until April 13, 2013 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, Ontario.

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