Review: Dark Matter (Circlesnake Productions)

Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness comes to life at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre in Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter is a play based on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. It’s currently onstage at a new and funky theatre on Bloor Street between Dovercourt and Ossington called The Storefront Theatre.

I suspect most people will know Heart of Darkness from the brilliant Francis Ford Coppola movie Apocalypse Now. It’s a movie that not only stands up to the test of time but improves with age.

The story is about a washed-out military captain who fails a psychological assessment is given a “can’t win” mission: seek out an insane, renegade employee, Kurtz, and bring him back to justice.

The Storefront Theatre, at least for Dark Matter, is a black box stage. That means that aside from the actors, everything is black. It relies on the audience to have an imagination and the actors to be magnificent. I can’t speak for the audience, but I can speak for the cast: they were superb and took me on a trip I won’t soon forget.

In the movie, Martin Sheen plays the one “voluntold” to go out and seek Kurtz. “Exterminate his command. Exterminate with extreme prejudice” are his instructions. In Dark Matter, the talented Kat Letwin plays Captain Marlow, the one tasked with dealing with Kurtz. She is told to “bring him back so he can face charges”.

I think that is a magnificent distinction between Americans and Canadians. And I think the veneer finally comes off when Letwin concludes the play, she does what any right-thinking person does when we see a cockroach invading the kitchen at three in the morning.

I can’t say enough about how much I liked Letwin’s performance. The easy thing to do would be to take the role and turn it into Ripley from the Alien movies. Instead, she is like a female Han Solo. She’s got that swagger, a charisma that can’t really be put into words.

Letwin commands a ship, and she takes it to weird, dark places in space. She has an assistant, a robot called Cal (Mikaela Dyke) who just happens to be really smart and really sexy. The robot and the commander are best friends, and I wondered if that were a feminist statement while watching the play. When the robot is seduced by Kurtz, I was pretty sure it was. Oh those bad men!

Along for the ride is Colin Munch, the administrator who gave Marlow her psychological assessment. Munch is fantastic, playing a young executive hell-bent on making a fortune. He does a great job and gets a few laughs, but he ultimately turns out to be a nuisance for our protagonist.

Before arriving at Kurtz’ outpost, there is a stop at a distant planet where life might or might not exist. My theatre buddy Kelon and I agreed that that scene could be tightened up quite a bit or even eliminated.

It was great watching a play like this with Kelon. He’s a cat born and raised in Trinidad and he had no idea what to expect before seeing this play. Talking to him afterwards, he fessed up to not knowing Coppola, Brando, Hopper or any of the big names from Apocalypse Now.

Maybe that’s the point of Dark Matter. None of us have any idea what is out there. Kelon took a great leap from Trinidad to Canada, and he took a great leap with me from Scarborough to Bloor and Ossington. We rode the snake across east Toronto together. The same snake in Apocalypse Now that slithers through southeast Asia is the same snake that slithers through Toronto. That’s part of the beauty of Conrad’s work: it’s universal.

One minor thing Kelon and I agreed that we didn’t like was the pretend opening and closing of doors, and other sci-fi geek mannerisms. We thought it was fun at first but really stood in the way after a few minutes.

Dark Matter is now onstage at The Storefront Theatre and the audience is filled with more questions than answers. And that’s a good thing.

Details:

  • Dark Matter  is playing until April 6th at The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West Street)
  • Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Sundays at 2pm
  • Ticket prices range from $10 – $20, with PWYC on Sundays
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office

Promotional photo provided by the company.