New Play Takes on Important Issues But Doesn’t Quite Hit The Mark
The topic is certainly timely. But despite the relevant and compelling premise, This Was the World did not quite work for me. The dizzying pace and a real change of direction midway through left me unsatisfied.
John Taylor (R.H. Thomson) is a 60ish white professor of Constitution Law and Indigenous Rights. He opposes the hiring of a new professor, who is female and Indigenous. Niimi (Dakota Ray Hebert) is an Indigenous student who is assigned Professor Taylor as a faculty mentor. She wants to learn as much as she can about Canadian law so she can change it from within. Taylor draws her into his beef about the new hire, and things quickly spin out of control. His daughter Ava (Rachel VanDuzer), her friend Tanya (Brittany Kay), and the Associate Dean (Kim Nelson) all get involved in the conflict.
R.H. Thomson gave a very believable performance as Professor Taylor. He was the classic, old-school professor with his rumpled jacket, his hair standing on end, and his booming delivery enunciating every syllable. Taylor cares deeply about the law and language, but he is floundering in a world where those things are changing.
Dakota Ray Hebert’s Niimi radiates poise and strength. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to advocate for herself. Despite her best efforts, she is caught up in Taylor’s fight with frightening consequences. Rachel VanDuzer was also strong as Ava. Ava’s scenes with her father were particularly moving. Their affection for each other seemed warm and real.
Michelle Tracey’s set and projection design are innovative and very effective. She has set up Tarragon’s Extraspace like a lecture hall, audience sitting where students would sit, and the set is minimal, with a few benches and tables. At one point, Niimi takes a seat at the back while Taylor preps for class on stage. Glass panels hang in the back and serve as both a window and mirror. I really liked Tracey’s use of projections on the panels to create the sense of being in either the Taylors’ living room or the dean’s office.
Despite the convincing performances, in the end, I had a hard time believing the story. The situation escalates very fast. What starts as an awkward or insensitive comment quickly becomes devastating for all involved. Yet we are never told exactly what happened or what was said.
While I don’t doubt that a character like Professor Taylor could be capable of something like that, the speed with which things devolve seemed forced. Also, when the focus of the play shifts from Taylor to his daughter Ava about halfway through, something about her behaviour didn’t ring true for me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but it just didn’t resonate with me.
This Was the World raises important questions about power relationships and privilege and has some great acting. I enjoyed it for that. But in the end, it felt unrealistic and, more importantly, incomplete.
- This Was the World runs until March 1, 2020 at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgeman Ave)
- Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm, with 2:30pm shows on Saturdays and Sunday.
- Tickets are $57- $65, $55 for seniors, $29 for students and arts workers and can be purchased online or by calling 416-531-1827.
- The show is general admission. Doors open 30 minutes prior to the performance.
Photo of R.H. Thomson and Kim Nelson by Cylla von Tiedemann