Review: Shadows (Parry Riposte Productions / Videofag)

Shadows

Shadows is a sexy, smoldering play about ill-fated love playing at Toronto’s Videofag

Everything in Shadows is on fire. The lovers burn for each other; their careers and relationships with others smolder, crackle, and occasionally burst into flames; and practically the entire world they inhabit–long, flowing costume gowns; dressing rooms with crepe-paper walls; a Connecticut cabin with a well-stocked wine cellar; and the ever-present newspapers–will immolate in mere seconds. All it would take is a single ill-aimed spark.

Margo MacDonald’s play is a love letter to so many things (these actors, repertory theatre, the fun to be had in secrets…) that this script could have run off in all directions, but luckily she’s found (with the help of a little creative license) two figures sufficiently interesting to bind them together. Eva La Gallienne, an actor so well-established and connected that she runs a theatre devoted essentially to her own whims; and her lover of 7 years, Josephine “Jo” Hutchison, playing juveniles and ingenues into her 30s, yet keenly aware that nothing of her world is permanent.

Eva (played by MacDonald) is a charming old soldier who puts me in mind of Sandi Toksvig. Her gregariousness–and you can’t describe the character any other way–has two sides. When she’s in a good mood, she’s the consummate lover, eager to sweep Eva off her feet and take the world by storm; at bad moments, she simply loses control, and can only rationalize it away later. MacDonald does great work with this part, turning her into someone you may very well already know, and would certainly have a beer with after the show.

Jo (Sarah Finn) is her opposite number in more ways than one. As much as she idolizes Eva, Josephine is the more grounded of the two, less given to whimsy and risk-taking–and likelier to bounce back when things go wrong. Finn is initially overpowered by MacDonald’s sheer force, but I suppose that’s the point: Jo was still coming into herself, and finding it increasingly difficult to do so within Eva’s smothering embrace. When Josephine finally gains the clarity and vision she needs to find her own way in the world, the change is dramatic, and the show would be incomplete without this radical shift.

The decision to include vignettes of their on-stage roles was especially wise: MacDonald’s script features brief glimpses of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and both are breathtaking in their insight–a welcome reminder that perhaps these mere children’s fables know more than we give them credit.

Rae Powell’s set and lights and Judy DeBoer’s costumes play extremely well together. Where they found that fainting couch and how they fit it into Videofag is beyond me, but the obvious attention and effort paid to design pay dividends throughout the piece.

And director Diana Fajrajsl has wisely given this play over to the characters, emphasizing their internal and shared conflicts. This makes the play less salacious and scandalous than it might have been, but also gives it a timeless air. I left with the impression that these encounters had happened before, and will happen again–and I doubt writer MacDonald would have had it any other way.

Details

  • Shadows plays Videofag (187 Augusta Avenue, in Kensington Market) through April 19, 2014.
  • Show runs nightly at 8 PM. No performances on Mondays.
  • Tickets are $20; $15 for students, arts workers and the unwaged.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in-person from the venue half an hour before the performance. (In-person tickets are cash only.)
  • Be advised that this venue is not wheelchair-accessible.
  • Be advised that the performers smoke herbal cigarettes throughout the show.

Photograph of Sarah Finn and Margo MacDonald by Alexander Andrews

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