BWW Review: ICELAND at Theatre Calgary is Worth Every Penny
The second show in Theatre Calgary's season is quite different from their season opener of Noises Off. But different should not be a deterrent. In fact, it should be an incentive.
Iceland, the Governor-General Award-winning play by Nicolas Billon, presents three monologues to tell the same story of greed, desire, and need. First, we meet an escort trying to make a new life and send money back home to her family. Then, a business man who believes that everything and everyone can bought. And finally, a devoutly religious woman whose intentions were more honorable than her actions.
I believe we, as human beings, are raised to take sides. Mind you, it isn't a natural phenomenon, but rather one that is entirely man-made. We all have an understanding of right and wrong and through religious, political, or societal influence, we can hear a person's story and decide whether they are worthy of our sympathy - beyond the simple fact that we are human. Nicolas Billon has created three incredibly flawed characters. Over the 75 minutes of Iceland, you decide who was good, who was right, who you side with - and maybe you side with none of them. Maybe you hear your own language reflected in characters that you come to question. Maybe you let other character's descriptions colour your view of another. While this show is very much about the relationship between people and money, I believe it's also sending a message: how we treat strangers is a reflection of our worth as human beings.
Also Artistic Associate at Theatre Calgary, Jenna Turk has tackled a monstrous one-act, three person show. These are three unique people and one killer topic and I enjoyed a lot of the choices. Pre-monologue there was a collection of movement that reflected key moments in each character's story. I love that each gesture came back around and they weren't used as placeholders until the story was created. I had trouble initially connecting because the movement without the context of a human became just steps to me. Once the talking began, I felt a natural understanding of the characters that painted a picture of their world.
A unique element of the set design (by Hanne Loosen) and blocking involved inviting a select number of audience members to watch the show from the stage as a "fly on the wall". While I'm not personally known for addressing the flies on my walls, I understand the desire to include the audience in front of and behind the actors - even if I don't understand how it enhances the story. I loved Loosen's design of the apartment building - superficial and off kilter. Clean but disorienting. Exactly what it needed to be.
I found myself continually distracted by Cimmeron Meyer's lighting design. Following the actors around seemed so natural, I barely noticed the light shift. However, every time the lights on the building went up, all I found staring back at me were audience faces watching actors. I've yet to uncover the intention behind this choice as I found myself not confronted with an epiphany but with an attention pulled across the stage at a patron who does nothing to further the plot. One moment, and it may seem minor but it has stayed with me, is a bright flash near the end of the show. I thought it did a wonderful job of jolting me and conveying the intent without hurting anyone.
Arielle Rombough sets the scene as the frightened Kassandra, an escort found hiding in the bathroom of a dead man's apartment. She is an innocent, pulled into danger by choices others made and a naivety to make worse ones. To me, she is the most sympathetic character - thanks in no small part to Rombough's almost child-like portrayal - though she isn't a child. She is the one to hammer home the message of the show: money is everything.
The title of Iceland comes from our second character, Halim (played by Praneet Akilla), a real estate business-type who believes money is the ultimate power. He is crude, and uncaring - though we see glimmer of humanizing emotion - and thanks dumb Icelandic fisherman for his incredible wealth. Akilla was perceptively in tune with his character. The mannerisms of the man drunk on power and money that I instantly hated but couldn't wait to hear what would come out of his mouth next. He had the showmanship locked in and it made his performance fantastically unnerving.
Last to speak but certainly not last to make an impact is Anna, played by Lara Schmitz, the strict religious figure who feels personally betrayed but offers no remorse. Schmitz played a very interesting character. She spends the first two-thirds of the show moving but never speaking. Stoic and unknown as the chaos of the story unfolds. And when she did finally speak, everything changed. Her movement, the way she carried herself, was so different. She was almost a different person and I wonder if that was intentional. To stun you into believing her innocence. It worked.
Iceland is admittedly a departure from what I would come to expect from Theatre Calgary but I thoroughly enjoyed this departure. It was truly thought-provoking and one I would recommend to a specific audience (this is certainly not one for the kids) who are looking for a more serious night of reflection.
Iceland by Nicolas Billon is playing at the Max Bell Theatre until November 2nd 2019. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatrecalgary.com.