Review: Das Ding (Theatre Smash/Canadian Stage)

Photo of Qasim Khan in Das DingTheatre Smash and Canadian Stage present the delightfully absurd play Das Ding in Toronto

The smallest action touches everyone around it. Big or small, these actions unfold outside our control, it’s just a matter of perspective that makes it a tragedy or a comedy. It’s here that Theatre Smash’s production of Das Ding presented in partnership with Canadian Stage at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre deconstructs these actions in an attempt to find the heart, the soul, and of course the humour of its characters.

I’m not sure it succeeds at every turn, but as these bits and pieces come together there’s a heck of a lot to watch.

Five actors play fourteen characters whose stories intersect over the course of the show. There is Katherine (Lisa Karen Cox) and Thomas (Kristopher Bowman), a married couple in crises. Meanwhile, new and reluctant photography sensation Patrick (Philip Nozuka) attends interviews around the world. Two Chinese business entrepreneurs Wang (Bowman) and Trainer (Qasim Khan) bite off more than they can chew. French-Canadian ‘saviour’ Guy (Khan) doesn’t understand the practical struggle of Siwa (Naomi Wright) as they attempt to do business together in Africa. And, finally, King Manoel (Khan) and his subject Magellan (Wright) have a disagreement over commerce.

Between these stories is the connected growth, plucking, and processing of The Thing.

Das Ding tries to revel in its absurdity. The Thing demonstrates an almost childlike glee at the events that bring it consistently into the lives of the characters. Often times, it’s charming and overall likeable.

My guest really liked this play. She thought the actors were strong and, even if there were a few weaker moments, she had fun. Her biggest complaint was that it dragged a bit towards the end.

For myself, I don’t know how I feel about it.

The actors were definitely awesome. Khan and Wright in particular, embodying different but similar comedic characters were laugh out loud funny. Seriously, these two in their opening scene as Magellan and King Manoel are hysterical and it is worth seeing that bit alone, quite frankly.

And I absolutely loved the set by Drew Facey and projections by Denyse Karn. The Thing is a large white ball that the actors roll around on stage. It comes apart gradually as the story unfolds (pun intended) and is wonderfully utilized to great effect such as allowing one actor to play two characters in the midst of an inconspicuous arms deal or representing the movement of a car down a highway.

The projections are little more than sketches and text against the back, brick wall of the theatre. Artistically, the unfinished style tied everything together wonderfully without overpowering any of the onstage action. One scene in particular, which I can’t spoil, even managed to use the projection to make a nauseating sense of movement that helped create an emotional impact.

But, and there is definitely a but, I’m not really sure the play’s social commentary is as interesting or progressive as advertised . Sometimes commentary doesn’t quite stop certain ideas from landing unpleasantly. Das Ding tackles topics like racism and sexuality. Theatre Smash’s production, under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, feels conscious of its race and gender-bending in a good way. Unfortunately, the play itself doesn’t feel as aware of its content as the ones producing the work.

For example, Katherine’s story can be summed up easily as woman transgresses sexually and is punished. Don’t get me wrong, Cox plays her character as strong, capable, and smart but she can’t quite shake the fact of her character’s arc.

Similarly, there’s some uncomfortable race commentary in one section that made me raise an eyebrow. It’s a funny thing to separate the text from the production but I think it’s worth pointing out that sometimes a play is problematic despite its intention.

Is it a good show, however? Yes, overall. I have reservations about content but there’s still a lot to experience.

Details

  • Das Ding plays until May 1st at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
  • Shows run Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 8pm, Friday at 7pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1pm beginning April17th
  • Tickets range from $24-$53 and can be purchased in person at the Berkeley Street Theatre box office, by phone at 416-368-3110, or online here.

Photo of Qasim Khan by James Heaslip