Review: Ditch (Sometimes Y Theatre)

Sometimes Y Theatre presents Ditch at the Theatre Passe Muraille Extra Space. The original Canadian play was written by Geoff Kavanagh in the early nineties, and this revival brings the angst and alienation of the contemporary social sphere into sharp focus.

The story follows two of the explorers on the doomed Franklin Northwest Passage, which in 1845 left 129 dead. The Extra Space stage is raised and carved into the Ditch of the title, opening like a mouth towards the audience, with the two prisoners trapped like lab-rats for our scrutiny.

Clinton Walker and Robert Tsonos capture the confusion, desperation, and turmoil of two men thrust together in their final hours. The action is first centered on the struggle to escape, then to live, and then ultimately to find meaning in their final breaths.

The trajectory is surprisingly optimistic, for the two cling to each other almost unwittingly, falling in love and struggling with the opportunity to survive if one decides to feed off the other’s flesh, depending on who dies first. One man is more realistic in this sense, the other more hopeful, each refusing to give up on the other.

The message of this simple story is a potent one when set against the backdrop of utterly dire circumstances. Perhaps it is humanity’s evolutionary programming which prevents the two men from killing when faced with certain death, an inability to resist love and camaraderie, the very definition of humanity. It is as though in the face of total calamity, men are reduced to the vulnerability of cuddle-bunnies.

Particularly commendable is Kavanagh’s decision to keep the sexual orientations of the two men slightly vague. While perhaps the director’s and the actors’ choices make it probable that one man is gay and the other straight, the circumstances render these classifications irrelevant. These are two men who love each other with the desperation of two staring into the fiery pit of hell, clinging to each other as to life itself.

A friend told me that there is a Japanese film which similarly deals with these themes called Woman in the Dunes (1964). While I’ve never seen it, there is no way to determine what influence it may or may not have had on the playwright. I’d be interested in finding out either way.

Ditch’s brevity – 80 minutes with no intermission – and simplicity serves up a refreshing microcosmic analysis of the nature of human relations and the parallel desires to live and love; an excellent selection for Sometimes Y Theatre’s return to the Canadian stage.

Details:

– Ditch is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Extra Space (16 Ryerson Ave.) until November 20th, 2011

– Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm

– Ticket prices range from $10 – $20, with PWYC on Sundays

– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-504-7529

Photo of Clinton Walker (left) and Robert Tsonos (right) by Diana Kolpak.