Review: The City – Actors Repertory Company

By Adam Collier

The City-IMG_0262

Martin Crimp’s The City is now playing at the Berkley Street Theatre Upstairs. My seat is just to the left of the stage.

The set (by Gillian Gallow) looks like an open clamshell. It curves in, out and around the stage.

The lighting (by Sandra Marcroft) is a bright palette. It washes over the characters in a way that makes them glow. They have no shadows or blemishes or wrinkles. They seem ageless.

There is always sound in The City. Occasionally, we hear familiar noises such as birds chirping and the din of a subway station. The most common sound, however, is a low, pulsing bass that fills the theatre with an electrical hum. (Sound design is by Robert Perrault.)

After the show, I look over at my friend. “Abstract,” she says. I nod in agreement.

I’d love to describe the story of The City, but I’m not sure it has one. The City seems to have been designed to elude detailed descriptions of what it is.

The City has five characters: a married couple, their kids and a neighbor. When the action picks up, the husband (Peter James Haworth) is just about to lose a corporate job; the wife (Deborah Drakeford) excels at her job as a translator, and their daughters (Janet Porter and Anja Bundy) are neglected. A neighbor makes an appearance in one scene, only never to re-appear again. By the time the play blacks out, the husband is a butcher, the wife is a still a translator, and the kids seem as docile and obedient as ever.

While the action seems to have an anchor in day-to-day life, the setting, structure and execution (Theodor Christian Popescu is the director) of The City tugs at conventions of realism. There are silences, and, more frequently, pauses between words and sentences throughout the dialogue in The City.

The total impact, as one actor put it in the talkback following the show, is “an over-blown artificiality.”

It’s fascinating to experience; a comparison that popped up again and again during the show was a Tim Burton film. Sweet, imaginative and – foremost – about a person or people that are outside of ordinary society that challenges convention. Though I’m not sure how to describe exactly how the characters here are different, to watch and listen to them is to know they are slightly beyond the boundaries of ordinary society.

The vitality of technical imagination and discipline of the actors is astonishing, so I would strongly recommend a viewing if you’re curious about the visual and aural possibilities of a play that is rooted in realism.


The City is playing at the Berkley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkley Street, one block east of Parliament Street, just south of Front Street)

The City is playing from March 19th to April 3rd

– Tickets are available at the box office, online (at and by phone 416.368.3110