Review: I on the Sky (DynamO Théâtre/Young People’s Theatre)

The company of "I on the Sky"

Toronto’s Young People Theatre’s I on the Sky “essentially works” – and keeps hyperactive twelve-year-olds in rapt silence.

I on the Sky opens with a young woman in the very eye of a storm. Life around her park bench is calm and mundane: an old biddy feeds the birds; a tourist fusses with an unruly map; a bored municipal worker picks away at the litter. But for our protagonist, this is only a brief moment of respite in the midst of intense turmoil—and she doesn’t have long before the storm consumes her again.

Everyone in the cast has extensive training in dance or gymnastics, and while Director Yves Simard has set up some ambitious choreography, this young and energetic company more than delivers. The movement in this piece is spectacular, enhanced significantly by Pierre-Etienne Locas’ set design–which cleverly conceals a trampoline. The cast of five does a wonderful job of filling the entire stage with sheer kinetic energy, and judging by the audience reaction—gasps, laughter and applause at regular intervals—they’ve got exactly what it takes to hold the attention of a room full of sixth-graders.

The dramatic sequences seemed to present more of a challenge. The costume design (Locas again) is note-perfect, and the cast make great work of the writing, but my companion and I agreed that certain themes and moments may simply be too heavy for a show of this nature: in particular, a sequence in which a group of fascists execute a character by firing squad may be a touch too dark, or might even go right over the heads of the young audience.

This being said, the show also features some extremely strong dramatic moments: a family celebrating a daughter’s piano recital; a young man being sent off to war; a runaway painting stars in the sky; and, perhaps above all else, an absolutely heartbreaking chase sequence.

The biggest difficulty that both my companion and I had with this piece was that it felt disjointed. While there are undeniably some strong moments, these often seemed grafted onto the plot. The director’s notes are revealing and enlightening, and a talkback is provided after most performances, but even accounting for the target audience, the themes and messages of this production were unclear to us, and several attempts to draw parallels between characters and situations were, in our view, uncompelling.

I on the Sky still essentially works. It kept a room full of twelve-year-olds in rapt silence for the entire hour, there are several useful springboards for further discussion, the cast are uniformly strong, the dance and acrobatics have been polished to perfection, and the whole exercise is entertaining enough on its own merits to be worthwhile. Despite this strength, it still felt like, with some clever editing and dramaturgical work, this talented company could have done much more with this premise, setup, character and basic plot, without losing the attention of the third-graders in the process.

This production is not by any stretch a disappointment, but we still found this missed opportunity disappointing.

I on the Sky plays at the Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East) through October 21, 2012.
– Performances are weekdays at 10:30 AM and 1:00 PM, with occasional weekend matinees. See schedule for details.
– Tickets are $15 for children and grandparents, $20 for adults. Discounts and PWYC are also available, see website for details.
– Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling 416 862 2222.

Photograph of the company is © Robert Etcheverry.