Dead Roads, now playing in Toronto, is ” like a dream, disjointed and unreal.”
The only description given for Dead Roads (presented by The Dead Roads Collective) was: “Something strange is happening in small town Alberta.” That sentence could describe a quirky comedy or a riveting mystery, but the tone felt ominous as the lights of the Theatre Centre suddenly went down and the audience was plunged into darkness.
The theatre rumbled with a sound that sent the hairs rising at the back of my neck. It sounded like the roar of a great turbine or like a rocket ship about to take off. It sounded like a flying saucer lowering to lift an unsuspecting loner into a light beam before disappearing into the night. “Strange” was definitely the right description.
Dead Roads is a show directed and co-created by Clare Preuss. The show was also created by the performers Darwin Lyons, Neema Bickersteth, and Zoe Sweet. It involves three nameless women living in rural Alberta: a butcher, a bartender, and a haul truck driver. They do not know each other, but navigate the same small community. Mysterious and mystical things begin happening to each woman. We watch as they struggle to cope with these weird discoveries.
Dead Roads’ strange atmosphere is owed to the lighting and sound. Lighting designer Andre Du Toit switches between plunging the stage into darkness and singling things out with a harsh spotlight. It created the feeling that there was something going on beyond the spotlight. It was like I was being distracted on purpose. I wouldn’t think too much about the shadows if I was staring into the spotlight. Sound Engineer Constanza Davila and Sound Designer Maddie Bautista use sound to build up anticipation. The low rumbles and crackling of static set me on alert.
Even though I couldn’t catch their names, I connected with the characters. In the midst of strange and fantastical occurrences, they still seemed like real women. Darwin Lyons as the butcher was brash and biting. Her delivery was excellent and seemed to make the audience smile with indulgence. After all, she is in the business of customer service and she says what most of us have always wanted to say to a rude customer. Lyons easily transitioned from snarky to vulnerable. I could sense how tired her character was.
Zoe Sweet’s bartender was more unexpected. She was wilder –shouting, running, and ripping off her shoes. Sweet seemed like she was trying to remain calm, but could never manage it. She was rippling with intensity. Watching her in the spotlight made me nervous.
Neema Bickersteth was phenomenal as the Haul driver. Bickersteth’s driver was a shy woman with quiet optimism. Her sincerity and humility was so endearing, the audience would chuckle when she mentioned the smallest detail. She was great at making herself seem simpler and smaller. She appeared so delicate and fragile, I thought she would crumple in on herself. Her shining moment was when she broke out into song, and her voice was painfully beautiful.
According to the pamphlet, the show is a commentary on capitalism. I didn’t get a heavy handed message about capitalism, other than the fact that living for work can be an isolating process. The bartender, butcher, and driver go through different types of loneliness in their small town. They express it in different ways — with desperation, frustration, and denial. It shows in their movement. The three women are on stage throughout the entire show, but their characters can’t seem to connect. They are together, but incredibly alone.
There were moments where I got lost in Dead Roads. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, and I wasn’t sure where the show was going to end up. I think the show isn’t about a clear path, it’s about a feeling. The feeling is like a dream, disjointed and unreal. It’s like walking alone in the woods and hearing something in the trees. Your body stiffens, waiting for something to appear. It’s knowing something’s out there and anticipating its reveal.
Dead Roads is one of the four shows put on by the RISER Project. The RISER project is an effort to bring leaders and emerging artists together, to encourage artistic creativity. The RISER Project is supported by the Toronto Art Council’s Open Door Program and the Government of Canada. The three other productions available at this season are The Archivist until April 22nd, Oraltorio: a Theatrical Mixtape from April 29th to May 12th, and The Other from May 3rd to 14th. If Dead Roads is any indication of this year’s RISER Project, they are all worth watching.
- Dead Roads is playing until April 24th at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West).
- Performance times are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:30pm, with Tuesday and Thursday shows at 7:30pm. Saturday April 23rd has a show at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, while Sunday has one at 3:30pm.
- Tickets are $20 at regular price, and $10 for youth (under 25). Tickets can be booked by calling 416-538-0988 or by purchasing them online. The RISER Project is offering a deal for a 2 show pass for $30, so that you can choose to see two of the four shows of your choice.
Photo credit: Jessica Rose. From left: Zoe Sweet, Neema Bickersteth, Darwin Lyons.