Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: MIRIAM'S WORLD at Theatre Passe Muraille

Review: MIRIAM'S WORLD at Theatre Passe Muraille

Theatre Passe Muraille becomes a library in installation about public space

Public spaces in large North American cities are dwindling. The number of places-especially indoor places-where one may simply exist without spending money is small, edged out more and more by sites of commerce. The public library is, therefore, a magical, democratic, radical space; it is a place where knowledge is accessible, work can be done without the purchase of a coffee, and tireless staff can help you with your research, regardless of its purpose. Because of this, the library is also a refuge for those society considers "undesirable"-the unhoused, the underage, the unstable.

Martha Baillie's 2009 book, The Incident Report, was longlisted for the Giller Prize for its look into the life of 35-year-old Miriam Gordon, librarian at Allan Gardens Library. The unconventional, loose narrative was told through a series of library incident reports. Some of these reports chronicled the anarchic behaviour of unruly library patrons; others probed Gordon's interior life, which revealed a painful past related to memories of her book-hoarding, poetic father who sold insurance.

Inspired by Baillie's novel, filmmaker and multi-media artist Naomi Jaye has brought MIRIAM'S WORLD to Theatre Passe Muraille. In this approximately 20-minute video installation, audience members are brought in through a winding path of stacked books into the central library. Handwritten incident reports from the novel are scattered on desks, along with scraps of paper covered with anything from a creepy manifesto to a Passover shopping list.

One can also find notes tucked into the middle of novels, paper airplanes on book carts, and the various other sorts of detritus that might be left behind in a library's throughfare. Surrounding the desks, Miriam and seven library patrons are projected larger than life on vertical panels, as they dance to their own music and interact with each other.

One patron passes out in a toilet stall; another finds inappropriate arousal in the History section; a third proudly announces his upcoming book of poetry. The librarian attempts to keep order among the conspiracy theorists, serial photocopiers, polite young punks, and romantic ideologues, while finding herself in uncomfortable and occasionally nonconsensual exchanges with these lost and lonely people.

Before or after the installation, guests are invited to spend time in the Backspace for Passe Muraille's own "lending library," featuring blackout poetry and other art from the theatre's sponsored community workshops. Even better, you can check out a book of your own from the resident librarian (the book is yours to keep).

The installation is a charming experience in the cozy, homey, yet slightly dangerous feeling it creates via the public library landscape. It's an enjoyable feeling to be in the middle of so many stacks of books, and the transformation of the space into something so vertical and immersive is impressive. The projections are quite lively, drawing you in to the interactions.

As an exploration of the question, "who does the library belong to?", though, it definitely feels more like a Nuit Blanche exhibit than a full theatrical experience. That's completely fine, as long as you know what you're getting into; it's not a narrative or a fully-realized version of an already unconventional book, more a few snippets based on some of its "reports" and themes.

Because of this, viewers will get a very different experience depending on how familiar they are with Baillie's book. Having read part of it in advance of attending, I recognized the characters and the excerpts, which made the world feel more realized. Without this foreknowledge, though, confusion may result, as the installation video itself gives very little context.

To find that context, one must read the incident reports scattered on the desks; luckily, there is time to do so and to let the video loop two or three times as things become clearer. However, I did not notice many audience members doing a lot of reading; many seemed unsure about how to proceed, other than standing or sitting and watching the film once, then filtering out. A more guided directive or clearer clues might have helped effective exploration. Most importantly, context-wise, unless you happen to find and read one particular report, if you don't know from the book a significant reveal from Gordon's past, some disturbing imagery of suicide may be completely mystifying.

When it came to an exploration of the space for the audience, I felt more could be made of a range of items and unusual discoveries, hidden and obvious. Perhaps this makes the most sense in a library, but the discoveries were largely limited to various papers and the stacks of books. The incident reports are mostly piled in a folder on each desk. How much you enjoy going through them will depend on how much you like reading and perusing random stacks of books and papers (if you're me, very much so). I thought there could be more direction and commentary contained within the space itself, even perhaps simply in book placement.

I found myself (perhaps unfairly, as the piece was far longer) comparing this installation to ECT Theatre's 2019 Here Are The Fragments at The Theatre Centre, another production that used a library-inflected installation; that time, to tell the story of an immigrant Black psychiatrist who uses the writings of Frantz Fanon to combat a racist healthcare system and come to terms with his own mental health diagnosis. That show similarly provided an atmosphere of mystery and slight discomfort, used a life's vignettes to interrogate a larger theme, and let the audience take its own path, but it also had enough of a directed structure that the discovery always felt purposeful and the point of view was clear. MIRIAM'S WORLD could make more of its interactive aspects, so that we truly feel part of the public space we're questioning about access.

Photo of Gloria Mampuya, Adrian Griffin, and Tarick Glancy by Maju Tavera



Harpsichordist And Guest Director Francesco Corti Makes Tafelmusik Debut With BACHS LIBRAR Photo
Making his Tafelmusik debut this season as guest director is harpsichordist Francesco Corti, “a powerhouse of unbridled vivacity, exciting and excitable in equal measure” (BBC Music Magazine). Corti leads the orchestra in Bach's Library, a fascinating program of music by J. S. Bach and those who inspired him, including Steffani, Hasse, and Zelenka—composers whose manuscripts would have been part of his personal library.

THE RHUBARB FESTIVAL Is Back At Buddies For A 44th Edition Photo
Canada's longest-running new works festival is back for its 44th year this February. In a new four-day format, The Rhubarb Festival transforms Buddies into a hotbed of experimentation, exploring new possibilities in art-making and performance.

Aluna Theatre & Theatre Passe Muraille Present RUBBLE, On Stage February 25 - March 18 Photo
In late February, Aluna Theatre and  Theatre Passe Muraille partner on the co-production RUBBLE by playwright Suvendrini Lena, on stage February 25 – March 18 in the Passe Muraille Mainspace. (Media night: Thursday, March 2)

Factory Theatre Presents YOU CANT GET THERE FROM HERE, VOL. 3, February 23- 25 Photo
Factory Theatre presents YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE, VOL. 3: A NIGHTMARE ON BATHURST STREET returning by popular demand with its 3rd volume of new audio dramas. This season of YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE will feature four commissioned audio experiences from award-winning Canadian playwrights Monica Garrido, Catherine Hernandez, Elvira Kurt, and Aurora Stewart de Peña.


From This Author - Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas is an English professor at Toronto’s Centennial College. She holds a BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, and an MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Colu... (read more about this author)


Review: MARTYR at Aki StudioReview: MARTYR at Aki Studio
January 22, 2023

Marius von Mayenburg’s MARTYR tells the story of a radicalized Christian teenager and his crusade of extremism that damages everyone around him. ARC’s production's sharp, slick direction and assured cast expose some flaws in the idea-heavy script. However, it ultimately succeeds in showing theatre’s great power to ask big, unsettling questions.

Review: MIRIAM'S WORLD at Theatre Passe MurailleReview: MIRIAM'S WORLD at Theatre Passe Muraille
December 11, 2022

Inspired by Martha Baillie’s novel The Incident Report, multi-media artist Naomi Jaye has brought MIRIAM’S WORLD to Passe Muraille. In this approximately 20-minute video installation, the theatre is transformed into a library, where interactions between projections of a librarian and patrons make us think about the dwindling nature of public space.

Review: LITTLE DICKENS at Canadian StageReview: LITTLE DICKENS at Canadian Stage
November 29, 2022

Ronnie Burkett's LITTLE DICKENS, a partially-improvised puppet homage to A Christmas Carol set in the bawdy and naughty world of show business, is a metatheatrical, in-joke-filled wonderland that pulls all the right strings.

Review: OUR PLACE at Theatre Passe MurailleReview: OUR PLACE at Theatre Passe Muraille
November 25, 2022

In Kanika Ambrose’s OUR PLACE at Theatre Passe Muraille, Andrea (Virgilia Griffith) and Niesha (Sophia Walker), immigrants without papers, dream of better lives for themselves and their children back home. Due to the pandemic, the show was postponed twice; now, like a dream deferred, it explodes onto the stage with verve and pathos.

Review: POST-DEMOCRACY at Tarragon TheatreReview: POST-DEMOCRACY at Tarragon Theatre
November 20, 2022

Moscovitch’s POST-DEMOCRACY, a new, tight one-hour drama at Tarragon Theatre, bares the seedy, nepotistic underbelly of the glistening penthouse. The bleak hour is gleefully biting in its criticism of a class invulnerable to consequence. However, it bites off a little more than it can chew in addressing the issues implied by its portentous title.