by Lucy Allen
If you go to see Alumnae Theatre’s Palace of the End, don’t expect to leave feeling happy. The effectively staged show will leave you more than a little devastated. Thankfully, I knew what to expect from a Judith Thompson play.
Thompson’s play is a collection of three monologues, each focusing on different aspects of the war in Iraq. The three stories, told by a pregnant soldier (Laura Vincent), a weapons expert (Christopher Kelk) and an Iraqi mother (Sochi Fried) are all based on real people, making the stories that much more haunting and potent.
The show is incredibly well put together. All actors are involved in the monologues, whether by speaking them or supporting them from the background. One of my favourite uses of this was having two of the actors be trees, swaying in the background, giving a real sense of place.
The acting was superb all around. It would be easy to give in to the melodrama of a couple of the monologues, but the actors maintain a subtle and intense level of performance.
Christopher Kelk in particular had chills going up my spine with his portrayal of a dying soldier named David Kelly. The only downside was that Sochi Fried did not seem particularly age appropriate for her role, especially when placed next to Kelk, who was. Her performance though was incredibly touching, so I was willing to forgive that small detail.
Unfortunately, if you don’t know anything about the political scandals referenced in the monologues, you might be a bit lost. Many shows suffer from bogging us down in factual details, but Palace of the End suffers from not having quite enough.
The best example of this for me was the soldier whose story revolves around some horrifying photos taken of her at Abu Ghraib prison. I had never seen or heard of the photos. As a result, when the actors simulated the infamous photos at the beginning of the monologue, it held little to no meaning for me.
When I asked my show partner Amber what she thought of the show, her response was simple: “I loved the acting and the staging, but this isn’t a show I would want to see”.
Palace of the End has a tendency to bash its audience over the head with its message: war is bad and it changes people. It’s a message we’ve heard before, but with the lack of a break from the intense emotional roller coaster it left us feeling more suffocated than thoughtful. That might have been the intended effect though.
Added to that is the somewhat formulaic feel. Perhaps it’s due to the healthy dose of Canadian drama I was force-fed in university, but the monologues themselves seemed predictable. The moment one character mentioned his love for an Iraqi family, or another talked of her son in great detail, I knew that something bad was going to happen to them.
Still, Palace of the End is effective in the details and nuances given to each character. The writer, director and actors do a great job of bringing these people to life, and if you go for any reason, go for that. Just don’t expect to leave dry eyed.
–Palace of the End is playing at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkely Street) until November 28.
-Performances run Wed-Sat at 8pm with a Sun matinee at 2pm. There is also a talkback on Nov 22 with cast and director.
-Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed, $20 Thurs-Sat and PWYC on Sun.
-Tickets can be reserved by calling 416-364-4170 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Cash only is accepted.
Photo of Laura Vincent, Christopher Kelk and Sochi Fried by Alex Felipe