BWW Review: THIS WAS THE WORLD at Tarragon Theatre
In the opening scene of THIS WAS THE WORLD, on now at Tarragon Theatre, a law professor (R.H. Thomson) meets with his supervisor (Kim Nelson) to discuss a problematic statement he made in class. "I apologised immediately", he insists, but the fact that he's reclining with his feet up on his briefcase suggests he is anything but apologetic. His supervisor (we later learn she is the associate dean) also informs him that the department has gone ahead with the hiring of a new law professor, an Indigenous woman, despite his complaints that she is unintelligent and unimaginative. It's important, Terry argues, that Canada's legal system include more Indigenous perspectives.
After his meeting with the associate dean, Professor Taylor is visited by a student (Dakota Ray Hebert), a young Indigenous woman who wants to learn everything she can from everyone she can. She wants to change the system from within. And she isn't afraid of calling Professor Taylor out on his BS. It's important, Niimi argues, that Canada's legal system include more Indigenous perspectives.
Later, at home, Professor Taylor watches some TV with his adult daughter (Rachel VanDuzer). He expects her to come to his side on the matter, but instead, she calls him out on his privilege. It's important, Ava argues, that Canada's legal system include more Indigenous perspectives.
For the first hour or so of this 80-minute play, Taylor meets with a carousel of women who express more or less the same (valid, poignant) opinion, albeit with different tones and degrees of respect. The result is the feeling that, prior to the show's surprising, explosive final scenes, the same conversation is playing on loop.
Also in the opening scene of THIS WAS THE WORLD, Professor Taylor explains that his problematic comment had to do with his daughter, who's had unspecified challenges with an unspecified mental illness. Like a freshly polished Chekhov's gun, Ava's mental illness sits untouched on the stage until boom, she twitches, spasms, and kidnaps her way into the pantheon of crazy white girls™. Blanche DuBois doesn't have anything on Ava Taylor, whose rapid descent is both viscerally upsetting and deeply problematic.
THIS WAS THE WORLD is a new play by Ellie Moon. From a distance, it seems to complete a trio with Tarragon's earlier season hits The Jungle, which exposed issues of class and money in Toronto, and Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, which addressed gender and power. Unlike The Jungle and Sexual Misconduct, however, THIS WAS THE WORLD deals less with the world as it is and more with tropes and shortcuts. Its spiralling dialogue and reliance on insanity as a plot device diminish the usually excellent work done by a usually excellent company.
And aside from its script, THIS WAS THE WORLD is a solid piece of theatre. Michelle Tracey's clever set, built of moving pieces of metal and glass, suggests a world that resists change but is open to rearrangement. Director Richard Rose commands strong performances from his entire cast, even, despite the unfortunate material she's been given to work with, VanDuzer as the demented Ava.
THIS WAS THE WORLD runs through 1 March at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann