ARC’s Pomona is dark, terrifying, and satisfying theatre, on stage at Toronto’s Geary Lane Theatre
ARC’s North American premiere of Pomona is a dark and exhilarating nightmare that seems tailor-made for me. Everything—every single thing—about this show appeals directly and forcefully to my specific sensibilities.
My experience began as I made my way to the venue: a converted, industrial space called Geary Lane, at the end of a dark and lonely street. (Some of my favourite theatrical experiences have occurred in obscure, out of the way spaces.)
Pomona takes its name from an abandoned concrete island in the centre of Manchester. Alistair McDowall’s text paints a vivid portrait of this dismal and secluded part of town. It used to be docklands, but all the buildings are rotting away and horrific things occur in the dark of night.
The large, open-concept industrial set (designed by Nick Blais and Jackie Chau) gives a compelling first impression. All steel girders and translucent plastic sheeting with a floor covered in (what looks like) charcoal, this feels like a place where awful things happen and—even worse—where nobody cares.
Into this decrepit place drops Ollie; she’s looking for her sister who got involved in some bad things and Ollie must navigate this underworld to find her. As she delves deeper into the secrets of Pomona, we meet a handful of unpleasant characters who—for their own reasons—have become trapped in the illegal and immoral goings-on.
Reality and fantasy blend together and echo each other. No matter what the focus of any given scene, my eyes drifted towards the dark, murky figures lurking in the background. Any movement, any shadowy figure, any object could be threat, so you watch, alert, distrustful yet intrigued.
Designer Joelysa Pankanea‘s soundscape goes from eerie to outright terrifying. The pre-recorded ambient sound and the practical noises created the actors work in perfect harmony. There are some breathtaking moments where sound and image align with perfect precision.
The performances—all of them—are intense. I was particularly drawn in by the dynamic between Andre Sills’ Moe, a tight-lipped silent thug and his overly chatty partner, Charlie, played by Ryan Hollyman. Even their early scenes together, which are quite funny, have a undercurrent of painful truth. Hollyman’s manic attempts to “connect” feel heartbreakingly desperate. Even when he doesn’t speak, Sills’ is an imposing presence, holding back some monstrous and frightening part of himself.
One of my favourite moments was between Sills and Deborah Drakeford as Fay, a sex worker who puts her life on the line for a good cause. In one of the few tender scenes, Moe confesses his secret, shameful history to her. I loved how beautifully Sills and Drakeford portrayed how empathy can be forged without an obvious display of warmth or affection.
The elliptical narrative that loops back on itself, the bleak and incriminating take on humanity, the gruesome activities that define the play’s world: these are not to everyone’s taste, but oh, how I loved it!
Every element of director Christopher Stanton‘s staging is striking and resonant.
If you are drawn to disturbing, meditative storylines with wretched characters that surprise and challenge you, you shouldn’t miss Pomona!
- Pomona plays until November 19, 2016 at Geary Lane (360 Geary Avenue)
- Show times: Nov 1-6, 10-13 and 15-18 at 8 pm, matinees Nov 5-6, 12-13 and 19 at 2 pm
- Tickets are $19 to $32 and can be purchased online
Photo of Deborah Drakeford, Andre Sills and Bahareh Yaraghi by Mark Mullaly.