Next Stage Festival: gas- Factory Theatre

By Dana Lacey

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The first scene of Next Stage Festival‘s gas sets the tone for the rest: a platoon of American soldiers shout in unison as their commander screams insults and inspiration. The response echos in the tiny Factory Theatre space: “No I do not want to fuck your wife, sir!”

A small giggle ripples through the crowd, but not too loud–no one seems quite sure if we’re allowed to laugh at a play like this. You know, the serious kind. The kind that spreads awareness and guilt amongst theatre goers by tackling current issues.

gas was written and directed by Jason Maghanoy. It follows five American soldiers on duty in Baghdad. Each searching for ways to cope with the violence of their jobs, whether it’s by playing dominoes, calling home to their partners, or hoarding various bits of human flesh in their khakis. This isn’t a play for the faint-of-heart.

Maghanoy wrote it while in theatre school in 2004, when 500 Americans had already died in Iraq. It premiered in Montreal in 2007 when solider deaths had reached the thousands. The actors performed in full fatigues in a pool filled with sand.

Today there’s more than 4,000 dead American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians and police officers. It’s hard not to think of Canada’s soldiers in Afghanistan.

This time around the director/writer revamped the production: the actors wear army casual and perform on an imaginary set. Their bodies become part of the scenery, and simple spot lights create smooth transitions between scenes.

As for the soldiers, there’s a southern jock, a homesick corporal and a guy who tells jokes while he aims for insurgent’s necks. And of course there’s a sensitive one, and a token tough-on-outside-to-hide-marshmallow-interior lady G.I. played magnificently by actor Sabryn Rock. Some of the actors were stiff and boring, but Rock carried her scenes well.

Sometimes the theatricality takes away from script, and a lot of the plot was lost on me. But, I really enjoyed the parts where the ensemble’s voices carry the narrative forward sometimes arguing sometimes in an eerie chorus that sent chills down my spine.

Maghanoy does a great job of portraying how detached the soldiers are (line of the night: “Who’s your Baghdad-dio?”) while also bringing it back to reality with a video camera the jock uses to “show everybody back home what heroes we are.” As pressures mount the soldiers deteriorate, and all you can wonder is: what happens when they come home? I didn’t really like the ending, which seemed far-fetched (at least from the comfort of Toronto), but this is a play for people who want something to think about. The graphic violence wasn’t that enjoyable, but as the friend I brought along put it, “war isn’t supposed to be enjoyable.”

Photo courtesy of the Internet

Details:

gas is playing as part of the Next Stage Festival until Jan. 17th at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St., Toronto)

Showtimes:
Friday, January 8th – 5:15pm
Saturday, January 9th – 5:00pm
Sunday, January 10th – 9:00pm
Monday, January 11th – 7:00pm
Tuesday, January 12th – 8:15pm
Thursday, January 14th – 9:30pm
Friday, January 15th – 7:30pm
Saturday, January 16th – 3:30pm
Sunday, January 17th – 5:30pm

Tickets are available at the box office or online.