Review: Islands (draft89 Collective)

There are few of us that haven’t given at least limited thought to the end of the world, with the ominous December 21, 2012 barreling at us through crossed off calendar pages. Islands (draft89 Collective) is perfectly timed, a view of what a post-apocalyptic world could look like.

Set in 2512, a group of intellectual elites has survived the apocalypse and have built a new society. They guide ideas, thoughts and the future – until they allow in the “reclaimed”, a group lost in darkness of the Americas, who have been cut off from progress for the last 500 years. This changes their whole society.

The show’s strength lies in the concepts it brings to the table – particularly that of ideas. Are there “good” ideas and “bad” ideas and how entitled are people to those “bad” ideas? In a perfect society should we allow “bad” ideas and is the freedom to have them more important than what the “good” idea is worth? And what makes them “good” or “bad”?

The set was simple, composed of wooden pallets, flanked by potted plants, with the actors bringing the occasional stool or table on to the stage. The costumes for the high council for the most part were consistent – long cotton tunics and pants – almost Indian in appearance but very bare minimum.

Personally, I found it very difficult to connect to the characters in this play – the plot did not expose any emotion or motivation for these characters. We are vaguely aware of what they believe but it was hard to empathize with them. The differences between them were superficial – and I found myself not really caring how the piece ended. The brief emotional connections between the characters – a hug, or a hand held, seemed abrupt and out of place.

The other main thing I would have liked to see is to have this be a more multi-dimensional performance. Many of the best performances I’ve seen over the last year, such Tarragon Theatre’s Forests and Hart House Theatre’s Macbeth, have had an incredible physicality to them that really brought the scripts to life.

Although Islands is a great deal more cerebral than either of the other two performances, they could have integrated more choreography. They could have used the two screens much more toward the beginning of the play – to set the stage, to add another layer to the conversations going on between characters. They did take advantage of it during the second half.

Because of these two elements it was easy for some of the more interesting ideas to get lost in the dialogue, and for it to be more of a philosophy lecture than a narrative.

My only other thought is that it seemed to me that though there was a debate going on due to an elite group of people having one set of ideas, and the “reclaimed” having another set of ideas, we only see characters of the elite represented – with one sole character who actually is part of the “reclaimed.” Perhaps the play could have provided more contrast for the characters.

“The play often touched on issues of class, and seemed to care about the suffering of those further down the ladder,” said my show partner. “The irony is that the dialogue strives to be utterly inaccessible to anyone but Ivy League philosophy majors.”

As I said earlier, I think the show touches on some really great ideas – but doesn’t bring them out in the most impactful way. The actors were strong as well – but the dominance of long two-dimensional conversations would make the characters difficult to work with. I would love to see a show like this with a bigger mix of strong characters with clear motivations and more physical commitment and choreography. For me, that would really bring it to life.

Details:

– Islands is playing at Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West) until June 2, 2012
– Shows run Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm with an additional matinee Saturdays at 1pm
– Ticket prices are $30, but are 2 for 1 on Wednesdays (admit 2 for $30)
– Tickets are available on the draft89 website or TicketWeb Website , at the T.O. Tix Box Office at Yonge/Dundas Square, by calling 416-538-0988 or at the door

2 thoughts on “Review: Islands (draft89 Collective)”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed “Islands” by written by Graham Porter and produced by Rick Talbot. “Islands” is a thinking-man’s/woman’s play, almost a 21st c. version of Greek philosophical plays intercepting with meme-theory, sci-fi and negative theology (Eastern Orthodox/Oriental religions). It is “heavy” stuff, making one question what is reality, what is illusion, what is delusion, when does a utopia become dystopic (and the reverse), and the morality in challenging thought patterns or introducing disinformation. The sets were minimalistic, lending themselves to both the subject matter, as well as the ascetic-ethos of the post-apocalyptic society of “meme-coordinators.” The music and computer-animations made it all more “real” and believable: or to borrow from the play, facilitated “belief in belief.” For those who don’t examine their lives too closely, or the meaning there of, it might be a foreign experience in foreign territory. My only hesitance with the play is that sometimes the line deliveries were a tad too fast to catch the word-play/though-play, and when one finally did make the ‘aha’ in one’s head, you missed the next line being delivered. But this is a minor deficiency, and does not reflect on the quality of the play, the production crew, or the quality of the actors themselves, who quite frankly did masterfully with some very heavy dialogue. For a tiny production company, they are doing with nickels and dimes what others simply haven’t been able to do millions of dollars and glitz on Broadway (or even in a Mirvish production): make us think and reflect, and expand our perspectives. Fr. Pierre, elder, Hesychastic Society of the Most Holy Mary.

  2. “I saw Islands last week and quite enjoyed it. I liked how Islands takes a view of the downfall of utopia from the perspective of the ruling class instead of the common people. It shows a view you normally don’t see which makes it interesting and different.”

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