LION IN THE STREETS
UBC Theatre, at TELUS Studio Theatre, until Feb 2nd
My Two Cents
Judith Thompson’s Lion In The Streets is a difficult play. Due to the content, it can be very hard to watch at times. It takes a courageous audience to bear witness to the brutality of humankind on display here.
Sophia Paskalidis plays Isobel, our anchor, a young immigrant who has been murdered and is now witnessing the many shades of evil that lurk in her old Toronto neighbourhood. Her grief is fierce and passionate. Paskalidis is an intensely captivating performer, and gives all of herself to Isobel. She follows a daisy-chain of a plot, weaving in and out of scenes and bearing witness to the hearts of darkness in every man and woman we come across.
The dream-like quality of the play is mostly successful. I’ll be honest, I didn’t always know what was going on. There are moments where the confusion yields to revelation and it’s riveting. Flow and commitment are key - Drew Ogle has one moment where a transition must happen seamlessly or the whole thing could derail, and he handles it brilliantly, never missing a beat. I yearned for the show to fully embrace its surreal nature, and descend into true grotesquery, but director Michelle Thorne seemed determined to stay closer to reality. A few scenes just don’t work, but the ones that do make for a mesmerizing experience.
Each monologue (and there are many) is richly evocative, but Thompson’s language is deceptively tricky to master. It’s naturalistic, but poetic. It takes a certain kind of skill to perform without drawing attention to the true weirdness of it all. Drew Carlson, as a frustrated teacher, seemed to have a particularly good handle on the dialogue, though her scenes were much more realistic in nature than many of the others. Elizabeth Young has a masterful turn as a woman with cerebral palsy, but the scene turned so disturbing I had a hard time understanding the point. Pacing was also an issue - there was no need for a 2-1/2 hour run time, though I suspect this will tighten up as the run progresses.
Design-wise, the show is flawless. Yuyu Ogido’s sound design enhances the surreality and adds a hypnotic quality to the scenes and in-betweens. Emily Dotson’s sets are an appropriately cracked, warped purgatory for these victims and monsters. The colours of Rachel Shaen’s lighting are bold and striking. If you can handle the brutality of the content, there is plenty to be appreciated here. It’s a psychological horror disguised as a human drama, and one I wasn’t prepared for, but found weirdly moving nonetheless.