By Adam Collier
Theatre Passe Muraille has an absolutely huge stage. So, up close – I took a seat front row, close to the middle – it seemed enormous.
Maybe because of this, I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief that the opening scene is set in prison.
But there’s a theatrical advantage to all this space, too. What it allows is the lead (“Shareef” played by Lwam Ghebrehariat) to remain on stage all the time.
So while other characters are negotiating an informant’s fee (as happens), or boasting of a radical conversion to the Muslim faith (as also happens), or arguing over how the government prosecutes terrorists (as frequently happens), we can always see Shareef in solitary confinement. His incarceration, to me, is what’s at stake in Homegrown.
Usually it’s pretty clear how other characters relate to Shareef. But there were a few times where, while I got the clue that other characters were related to Shareef’s narrative, I didn’t get how, say a scene between an informant and government handler, forwarded his story.
About halfway through the show I began to wonder if the subtitle of Homegrown – a true story – had obligated the inclusion of information with little dramatic value.
The trouble for me with so much information is that I felt confused at times.
Maybe that’s intentional though.
Maybe we (the audience) are supposed to be confused by a case with such a vast amount of information related to it and none of it allowing for a conclusion. (If it is though, what a pretentious approach to drama: barraging an audience with information just to prove an ancillary intellectual point.)
What struck me though – and, frustratingly, never felt fully explored – was the psychological degradation of Shareef. It came across as positive hallucinations (cats) and occasionally erratic behavior (sudden lapses in faith). I kept asking myself: is that it?
To me, it seemed like torture (solitary confinement) was used to make Shareef seem pathetic, and did not push him to many other realms of experience. It’s unfortunate too, because in the end, Shareef’s tight range of expression tampered my sympathy for him.
While I can be sympathetic, generally, to a mistreated human, a bond with that person won’t develop if I feel they’re only pathetic or part of the experience they’re going through is occulted.
Pretty close to the end, when Shareef dictates a cover letter for a play his friend (“Cate” played by Shannon Perreault) has written on his case, I felt a bit irritated. It was like Shareef was somehow only capable of telling me how he is a victim, rather than allowing me to see a full range of consequences of abuse on his psyche, and developing an uninhibited sympathetic bond.
While I commend the playwright (Catherine Frid) for taking on timely and controversial material, Homegrown was, for me, not a satisfying work of drama.
– Homegrown was written by Catherine Frid, and directed by Beatriz Pizano, with assistant director Navneet Rai. It features Keith Barker (“Greg”, Press, Crown), Lwam Ghebrehariat (“Shareef”), Omar Hady (“Mubin”, Guard, Clerk), Shannon Perreault (“Cate”), Nabeel Salameh (“Zak”, Defence, Handler) and Razi Shawahdeh (“Shaher”, Youth). Sound design was by Thomas Ryder Payne, and scenography was by Trevor Schwellnus.