The Overwhelming – studio 180, in association with Canadian Stage Company

By Adam Collier

Overwhelming

In the second row of the balcony, I take my seat. I am at Berkley Street Theatre. I’m here to see the play The Overwhelming.

The stage is empty as the seats fill up. Although there are few visual clues, the early dialogue contains plenty of references to the setting and time period. The Overwhelming takes place in Kigali, Rwanda in the early nineteen-nineties. Regional history and politics are on the lips of almost every character.

A new character enters in almost every scene for a while, and the scenes are short and move along fast. I feel a restless energy coming off the stage. Teenagers near me begin whispering and giggling. Another patron swings a scarf at them – shhhh!

At intermission, I overhear a couple talking. One mentions to the other that when the National Theatre in London read The Overwhelming, they knew they had to produce it.

The Overwhelming deals with an important subject (the circumstances that led to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people), but does important equal engaging? I heard and saw patrons physically re-adjusting and checking the time in the theatre. That suggests to me that the scope of material and occasional, abrupt violence of The Overwhelming has an alienating effect.

All the same, the cast is terrific. And the lighting design (by Kimberley Purtell) and costumes (by Erika Connor) are top-notch. The set (by Michael Glanfrancesco) also works perfectly for the various locations.

As a production, The Overwhelming couldn’t be better. I strongly recommend it based on the merits of the cast and production team working on it at the Berkley Street Theatre right now.

Details

The Overwhelming (written by J. T. Rogers and directed by Joel Greenberg) is playing at the Berkley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkley Street)

– The run is from Monday March 8th through Saturday April 3rd

– Showtime is 8:00 PM Monday through Saturday, with an additional 1:30 PM show on Wednesday, and 2:00 PM show on Saturday

– Talkbacks are held after the Wednesday afternoon and the Thursday evening performances

– Tickets can be bought by phone (416 368 3110), at the box office or online (at the Canadian Stage Company website, http://www.canadianstage.com)

Photo of David Storch and Andre Sills