Sound theatre fundamentals in The Biographer, playing at Toronto’s Videofag
In the second act of The Biographer, playing at Videofag, the titular character welcomes a stranger into his home, offers him a cup of tea, and invites him to spew his guts. Tell me everything. Tell me anything. The stories of strangers are a biographer’s lifeblood; the fact that this particular stranger is brandishing a knife is just an added bit of flavour.
And in that moment, Daniel Karasik’s play is laser-sharp. There is insight and perspective to be gained from these scenes.
But scenes always end. And when it happens, these moments of clarity disappear completely.
It’s clear that ages of effort have been poured into imbuing this script with symbolism and subtext, but the product is so dense and self-referential that the process of figuring it out feels not unlike trying to find meaning in a bowl of alphabet soup. I’ll also admit that I rolled my eyes at some of the theatre-school clichés–and I wasn’t the only one.
And yet there are considerable strengths here. Two of the characters, both played by Stewart Arnott, are fascinating. The Biographer and The Clown explore different sides of the Cheshire Cat archetype, and both of them are wonderful to watch and hear. Arnott also contributes significantly: even sitting perfectly still, staring up at his subject, a gentle smirk on his lips, Arnott’s performance is deeply compelling.
The other actors–Earl Pastko as Franz, Miriam Fernandes as Delilah and Laura–are talented and do an awful lot of heavy lifting. Fernandes in particular has the ability to play both sweet and dominant simultaneously: she transitions from seductive to dangerous to vulnerable at rapid speed, but always appears to be in control of the much larger Franz. The interplay between Pastko and Fernandes shows a deep degree of mastery, and the two make delightful work out of the material, even when Pastko has to channel William Shatner just to get through an obnoxiously long and overwritten monologue.
The lighting is handicapped by the tiny storefront space, but some clever tricks–I especially liked the messages in bottles–prove that André du Toit deserves the credit and is capable of far more than clipping lights to the ceiling tiles. Set designer Jung-Hye Kim’s decision to fill the theatre with sand, all the better to recreate the seaside setting, was inspired.
And, for his part, Daniel Karasik is on the right track. There’s something interesting beneath this play, and the fundamentals are sound. The final scene, in which Franz sits down and begins (re?)writing his own biography, is one of the most interesting and worthwhile in the show. But the journey to this point is so leaden, so oddly-paced, so full of eyeroll-inducing flourishes, that its charms go wasted.
On a personal note, be sure to wear shoes which interact well with sand, as the venue’s floor is covered by about two inches of it.
- The Biographer plays through May 19th at Videofag. (187 Augusta Ave.)
- Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM. Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 PM.
- Tickets are $20, $15 for students or arts workers. Service fee applies for online orders.
- Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
Poster photograph by Ben Salter. Poster design by Linn Øyen Farley.