Review: Iceland (Factory Theatre)

Iceland

Factory Theatre’s Iceland is praise-worthy Toronto art

Iceland is “the perfect volcano”. It has exceptional writing, directing, acting and venue. Toronto’s Factory Theatre is once again ground zero for a great night of challenging and rewarding art.

Iceland is comprised of three intersecting monologues from three very different and intriguing people.

Kassandra is a young Estonian working her way through college as a prostitute. Anna is an uptight and self-righteous woman who just can’t win, even with God on her side. Halim is a Pakistani real estate agent who tells the dirty truth.

Iceland is all about writing and acting. It was written by Nicolas Billon and was the darling of SummerWorks 2012. It won numerous awards and praises.

I’m often put off when praise is heaped upon art. Usually it is too good to be true. In this case, though, seeing Iceland was like seeing the band Wilco for the first time.

Iceland is so good that the acclaim seems understated.

There’s not much of anything on stage other than three chairs and immense talent. Imagine a Fringe play. Imagine a fantastic Fringe play.

I think Iceland is brilliantly written. Mike, my companion for the evening, loved that it was local and current. I loved that I “knew” all three characters shortly after they began their monologues.

Shortly after Iceland ended, I sent a text to my wife: “This guy writes dialogue better than Mamet!”

It takes great acting to help great writing shine. Iceland shines like a diamond mine.

We first meet Kassandra (Lauren Vandenbrook) and hear her story. Vandenbrook is fantastic and the audience falls in love with her. She is soft and gorgeous, has a “Russian” accent and a dastardly secret.

That being said, if there is a flaw at all in the writing, it is that Kassandra is a stereotype. My in-laws are Lithuanian, and as far as I know, they are not actively nor previously engaged in the sex trade industry. Not all Newfies are drunks, either. Some blinders are tough to take off.

Next up is Halim (Kawa Ada). I’m not sure how much collaboration went on between Ada and Billon. I don’t know if either of them has bought or sold a condo. I have, and this performance is deliciously truthful. Ada is bang on as a good real estate agent.

Ada’s monologue is also bang-on at describing the human condition. He says we are all driven by money, and money is the only pure thing. I hate to admit it, but he’s telling the truth. It’s quite easy to support “progressive” causes when you have Bill Gates or David Miller type money. When your next meal is a sip on the fountain at a park infested with who knows what, one might turn to prostitution. One might even turn to real estate.

Claire Calnan is great as Anna. She is completely sincere and also in love with Jesus. She’s a control freak and not someone you would move in next to, given the chance. I can relate to her, though. When she speaks of saving her hamster, I felt empathy for my cat, Isobel.

The gorgeous thing about Ada’s monologue is that what he is saying is despicable. It is despicable yet true. It is also delivered in a hilarious way. I’d have a drink with Ada in a second if he pulled out his money clip!

I think that is the beauty of Iceland. As an audience, our beliefs and convictions are challenged. We are between a rock and a hard place, there’s hipsters on the left and suits on the right. Some will be further entrenched; some will be changed or altered. It takes onstage talent as fantastic as the writing to pull this off. It is rare. It is appreciated.

Another thing Mike and I liked is that the characters are not only real, but they have many of the same traits as us or our friends. Halim might as well have been our friend Dion. Kassandra and Anna are simple stereotypes on the surface. Peel back a layer or two and there is an explosion of intrigue. Iceland shows the pernicious underbelly of people like Anna.

Toronto’s Factory Theatre is so synonymous with challenging and rewarding productions that we tend to take it for granted. We shouldn’t. Wag a finger to political correctness and corporate nonsense. Treat yourself to an amazing feast of thought food.

Go see Iceland before it melts.

 Details:

  • Iceland is playing at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until March 24, 2013
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 with matinees on Sundays at 2:00pm
  • Tickets range from $32-$42
  • Tickets can be purchased in person, online or by calling 416 504 9971

Photo of Lauren Vandenbrook and Kawa Ada and by Joanna Akyol