Review: It Comes in Waves (Necessary Angel/bluemouth inc./PANAMANIA)

19711745032_14f08ec3fa_zPANAMANIA presents It Comes in Waves, a unique immersive play on the Toronto Islands

It Comes in Waves is a piece that defies the conventions of theatre. Performed as part of PANAMANIA, the arts and culture festival presented in conjunction with the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, the show is an immersive, site-specific piece staged in different indoor and outdoor spaces on the Toronto Islands and features elements of song, dance, and script. It’s also the first time I’ve had to sign a waiver before a show.

The audience is instructed to meet at the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre; the show begins with the audience boarding three large Voyageur canoes (that’s where the waiver comes in) and paddling across the harbour to the Toronto Islands. After a 30-minute canoe journey that’s both relaxing and meditative, the Toronto skyline disappears as we round the bend into Hanlan’s Bay and arrive at our destination; the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

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A lone figure (Stephen O’Connell) greets us and leads us on a meandering journey to various locations throughout the island where he’s joined by other performers: Ciara Adams, Lucy Simic, and Richard Windeyer. The show they eventually sketch out for us in a series of scenes is essentially a meditation on grief and coming to terms with loss, though the tone is playful through most of the show.

I really loved the slightly disorienting, dream-like quality to the show. Some of the imagery is truly stunning; a clearing in the woods lit by hanging bulbs surrounding a single microphone that dangles from the forest canopy; a beach filled with lanterns as a lone figure stands partially submerged in the water holding up a glowing road flare; a seemingly endless path created by crumpled paper lanterns lining a beach as a solo dancer performs on a distant jetty.

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Kudos to the entire production design team for creating these beautiful, immersive dreamscapes.

Events culminate in a party scene where the initially festive mood takes a bit of a darker turn and that’s when I thought the show unravelled a bit. Director Jennifer Tarver makes a valiant effort to fuse the different performance elements; the music, the big choreography that has dancers flinging themselves across the room, sometimes performing inches away from audience members, and playwright Jordan Tannahill’s fractured yet vaguely poetic dialogue.

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That scene ought to have been the emotional climax of the piece but I thought it felt muddled, the disparate elements never really coalesced and I struggled to connect with it. As a result I didn’t feel like I got a satisfying payoff for the elaborate rituals that preceded.

Regardless, the journey itself is well worth taking. It Comes in Waves is beautiful, haunting and unconventional but it’s also a lot of fun and a great way to spend a summer evening on the Toronto Islands.

Details:

  • It Comes in Waves is playing from July 15 to 24, 2015. Audiences meet at Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak, 283 Queens Quay West in Toronto.
  • Shows run Monday to Sunday at 7:40 p.m.
  • Tickets ($30 to $45) are available online

Photos provided by the company

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