Five Faces for Evelyn Frost experiments with social media to tell a story, on stage in Toronto
A quintet of youthful white-appearing actors, rapidly changing projection of photographs, bright white light, onslaught of short declarative sentences, nonlinear storytelling — taken together, these form most of the new show Five Faces For Evelyn Frost at Canadian Stage. If two or more of these appeal to you, you might find Five Faces For Evelyn Frost an appealing artistic work. I did not.
Five Faces For Evelyn Frost is an avant garde experiment in storytelling, using the convention in which people scroll through their smartphone photos and describe them on social media (“Me making a funny face!” “Me dancing on a speaker,” and so on) to tell a story about how these characters represent themselves. It’s possible that the play shows five separately curated versions of each character, or perhaps five people’s realities — that point was not entirely clear to me.
Neither was it clear to me why we needed to spend the first fifteen minutes of the performance listening to what amounted to a long, long laundry list of band names and movie titles. I understood that it was a living embodiment of a social media profile — that part was well-established in the first few seconds of the first character’s recitation. As the exercise carried on, and on, and on I began to understand that this was probably not going to be my theatrical cup of tea.
Indeed, it was not. I am fairly sure that the playwright, Guillaume Corbeil, and the director Claude Poissant, must be enthusiastic about the opportunity to present work I imagine they consider “stylized” and “hyper-realistic.” In actual practice, I found it a completely exhausting style of writing to give my attention to for longer than a few minutes. Even if the exhausting nature of it is the point of the play I’m not convinced that I needed that experience. Exhaust me by considering oppression, racism, hatred, sexism, xenophobia? Okay. Feels worth the emotional work to gain some insight there. But to be exhausted in service of a critique of social media (or something like that) feels like a scolding think-piece by Ezra Levant – I know I’m being told I’m bad, I just don’t care that he thinks so.
I have no complaint about the acting, which seems like faint praise but isn’t — the five performers did an excellent job at the assignment they were given. The lines were delivered rapidly and with a numbingly uniform intonation that varied little even when the topics and their potential emotional import varied considerably. Squished into an alarmingly small emotional range, they nevertheless managed to display some variation using the subtlest of cues — hand and arm position, the tilt of head, small pauses. I appreciated the technical achievement.
I did not, however, appreciate the play. Fearing I’d somehow missed an important or relevant piece, I eavesdropped on my fellow audience members after the show to see how they felt about what we’d just seen, as I often do when I just don’t care for something. I almost wish I could report that they loved it and I am simply not built for this style of work, but I regret that I cannot. Overall, as I listened in, I heard versions of my own feelings, best summed up as “I get what they were trying to do, but…”
That, in a nutshell, was my experience. I get what Five Faces For Evelyn Frost was trying to do. I cannot say that I think it worked on any level.
- Five Faces For Evelyn Frost is playing until March 5 2017, at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) in English, with a subsequent run from 21-25 March in French with English subtitles.
- Shows run every day except Monday; see website for show times
- Tickets range from $39-$69 and are available online or by calling the box office at 416-368-3110
- Performances run 85 minutes without an intermission
Photo of the cast by Cylla von Tiedemann