BWW Reviews: POSSIBLE WORLDS at Stratford Festival

Stratford Festival's Production of POSSIBLE WORLDS, directed by Mitchell Cushman, opened at the Studio Theatre this week. I had the opportunity to see this play one day early, during its very last preview performance. I can assure you that this play is unlike anything else you will at the Stratford Festival this season. Thought-provoking, imaginative, and at times bizarre, this play may not be everyone's cup of tea, but anyone who sees it will certainly exit the theatre with an appreciation for the talented cast and crew who brought it to life. They will also likely find themselves thinking about it for the duration of the evening.

Written in 1990 by playwright John Mighton, POSSIBLE WORLDS' commentary on the future of neuroscience is certainly as relevant now as it would have been when it is written. The imaginative abilities, as well as the cognitive limits of the human brain are explored often in the play, and are still very much a mystery.

The play is about George (played by Cyrus Lane), a man who can apparently experience his life in multiple parallel worlds. He can have his first date with his wife Joyce (Krystin Pellerin) over and over again and in different settings, and he can try to ignore sad things that happened in other worlds, but focusing on what is in front of him in whichever one he is in. The movement between 'worlds' is very fluid in this play; perhaps this is why the set design by Anahita Dehbonehe includes a large pool of shallow water as the main part of the stage. Among other things, it helps symbolize this fluidity.

The other 3 players in this relatively small cast, are Sarah Orenstein, who portrays Dr. Penfield-a researcher who is fascinated with the brains of many different species; Michael Spencer-Davis as Berkley, the more experienced and jaded detective investigating the murder of George in one of his worlds; and Gordon S. Miller as Williams, the younger, slightly bumbling detective, who becomes interested in a sort of self-help course to apparently increase imagination and intelligence.

The entire ensemble is superb. They approach this complex production with a degree of earnestness and energy that is key to making everything work. Something else that works, is the other-worldly nature of the set and of some of the events that take place. Throughout the play, certain small strange and bizarre things occur which really emphasize the question of 'what is real'. As an audience member, I am still scratching my head trying to figure out how certain tricks were pulled off. As the play progressed, audiences get so immersed in the confusing nature of these strange 'worlds' that when one character tells another that he doesn't seem to be present in their conversation and it is as if she "could pass her arm right through [him]" half expect that to somehow happen.

This play explores everything from existentialism, imagination, neuroscience, and physics, but the exploration that ends up being featured front and centre, is that of the power and influence of love on the human mind. This play is as beautiful as it is strange. It is a welcome addition to this diverse and exciting Stratford Festival season.

POSSIBLE WORLDS plays in repertory at the Studio Theatre until September 19th.

Photo Credit: David Hou

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From This Author Lauren Gienow