Monday, March 11, 2013


Pictured: Kawa Ada

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
11 MARCH 2013
R: 3.5/5

You don’t need to have parsed the ruins and charted the financial missteps that led to the 2008 collapse of Iceland’s three largest banks. You don’t even really need to know how to find Iceland on the map, one suspects. Because ICELAND — a Summerworks’ offering written by Nicolas Billon and revived as part of the Factory Theatre’s resurgent mainstay season (where it opened Thursday) — uses the sometimes over-heated island nation and its financial woes as mere metaphor for the kind of greed and desperation that fuelled banking meltdown across the free world. Set largely in a condo in Toronto’s Liberty Village, ICELAND brings together three people in search of cash and what it can buy.

Kassandra (played by Lauren Vandenbrook) is an attractive and ambitious young Estonian who sandwiches a bit of prostitution between her history courses in order to help pay off her twin brother’s gambling debts back in Europe. Halim (played by Kawa Ada), may be the Canadian-born son of Pakistani immigrants, but he’s bought into the American dream hook, line and sinker and believes that “money is everything.” And in order to get more of it, he’s in the process of flipping the condo in which the play is set. But to the deeply-repressed and religious Anna (Claire Calnan) it is not merely a condo he’s selling, but rather the place she made her home until Halim evicted her — and now Halim’s improvements have put it out of her price range.

Set on a studiedly bare stage furnished with only three chairs by designer Joanna Yu, each starkly lit by Kimberly Purtell, ICELAND is one of those ripped-from-the-radio shows that tells us what is happening instead of showing us. Happily, director Ravi Jain serves it up with a fair bit of slick theatrical polish, although fault lines are still evident as he and the playwright attempt to interweave three monologues into theatrical whole cloth.

Vandenbrook certainly brings visual veracity to her role and she might even be acting the part but with her penchant for swallowing lines like they were incriminating evidence, it is hard to tell.
And while Ada serves up Halim’s over-arching ambition and confidence with relish, Jain allows him to get so carried away that he overbalances, allowing the actor’s self-satisfaction to overshadow the character’s, turning what should be a dangerously repellant performance into a stand-up routine. 
Happily, Calnan’s ability to disappear into a character is undiminished and she manages to make a theatrical banquet out of what could be the script’s most clichéd character.

Still, clocking in at just a few minutes more than an hour, ICELAND proves to be yet another piece of the theatrical tapas spun off by our two major summer festivals, both of which are more proficient at producing theatrical snacks than full meals. And while ICELAND is certainly a tasty snack, it’s got a ways to go before it’s a full meal deal.

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