Review: Staging a Rebellion (Docket Theatre)

A reenactment of the Occupy Toronto events in Rosamund Small's "Performing Occupy Toronto," which forms the second half of Docket Theatre's "Staging a Rebellion."

 A Farewell Party and Performing Occupy Toronto make up an exciting double-bill from Docket Theatre.

Staging a Rebellion combines two plays well worth viewing in their own right, but the double-bill is best enjoyed if you allow yourself to forget this. A tragicomic night of rebellion in different contexts, Docket Theatre’s offering questions the ambition and capability of younger generations in fresh, surprising ways.

A Farewell Party forms a first act, casting the awkwardness and frustration of youth in a comic light. Bookish, unsteady Elaine (Gracie Robbin) is drawn into deepening tension with her suave, domineering older sister, “Dirty” Diana (Lauren Dobbie).

Diana plots to flee a charted-out life on their father’s estate for one of independence and free will in Europe, but things snarl up when Elaine, a few drinks, and a tall order of deadbeats are thrown into the mix.

Skewering the inherent rebellion of adolescence from an unusual angle, the play pushes vivid, hilarious characters in conflicting directions, with unexpected results. Dialogue slips into junior-high speak once or twice, but on the whole, line after expertly crafted line is delivered with the wit, precision, and flair of a Vaudeville sketch.

Intermissions are where double-bills often go to die, but Musician Callan Furlong keeps this from happening. Strumming decades-old union songs and a Dylan-esque rendition of “Maggie’s Farm,” his performance provides a backdrop of continuity to the evening, harkening back to bygone eras while foreshadowing the heavier subject matter ahead.

As the second act opens, dapper 1920s rogues cede the stage to a grittier sort, armed with yoga mats and megaphones. Performing Occupy Toronto blurs the lines between actor, writer, and audience. There is shouting all around you, there are drums, and there are people using hand gestures you may or may not understand.

“Everything that you see, I saw,” says Performing Occupy’s narrator: the play’s script is a composite of interviews recorded over a period of several weeks in St. James Park, and follows the events there.

Fortunately, the narrator is here to guide you through the hubbub, freeze-framing the action on command to offer the audience impromptu explanations. (Pretending to tickle your chin means you agree with somebody; folding your arms means you’re opposed; waiving your hands in the air means you just don’t care.)

Like the movement it documents, Performing Occupy Toronto is larger than any one person.

To emphasize this point, many actors from the first play assume radically different roles in the second. Brandon Knox and Umed Abdullah give great turnaround performances, while Jared Bishop so convincingly inhabits one oddball personality after another that he seems possessed.

“Both plays were able to show the relationship between acts of rebellion and acts of independence,” commented a friend. “Each character’s path is different. But choosing your own path isn’t wrong just because it’s unusual or unexpected.”

Performing Occupy Toronto soars and unravels all around you, as spontaneous, comic and emotionally raw as only true events can be.

Like the movement in St. James Park, its conclusion will leave you unsettled, but this is a human work, not a political one. Writer Rosamund Small and director Llyandra Jones have reimagined the documentary form for theatre in powerful, challenging ways.

 

– Staging a Rebellion is playing Saturday, June 23 at 8pm and Sunday, June 24 at 2pm at the Helen Gardiner Playhouse (79 St George Street).
– Ticket prices are $20 for general admission and $15 for students.
– Tickets are available online or by calling (647) 884-9165.