Review: Passion Play (Outside The March/Convergence Theatre/Sheep No Wool)

Andrew Kushnir in Passion Play (Photo Credit Keith Barker)

Indie theatre goes epic with Passion Play in Toronto

A few years ago it became, for a time, fashionable to refer to practically everything as “epic.” You might have complimented your friend on the “epic shirt” she was wearing or expressed how “epic” your pizza tasted. The popularity of this word reached an annoying pinnacle and then I suppose trailed off.

Now that “epic” is no longer a catchphrase it is once again free to use appropriately – I can describe something as epic without undermining its sincerity. But I think the word still carries that popularized connotation; it maintains some lingering sense of “coolness.” Which is what makes it the very best word to describe Passion Play.

Passion Play is seriously epic. In every sense of the word.

It begins with the epic proportions of the production team behind this play. Indie theatre companies Outside The March, Convergence Theatre, and Sheep No Wool teamed up to assemble a thirty-five person creative crew which includes a stage of eleven core actors and an eight person chorus. They began working on Passion Play two years ago. Talk about breadth and scope!

But likely it actually begins with the epic proportions of the play itself. Playwright Sarah Ruhl has written what can really only be described as a masterpiece, in the sense that a symphony differs from a song, a mural from a sketch – or an epic from a poem.

The storyline spans from the 1500s through to the 1980s, through empire, genocide, and war. Maev Beaty morphs from the monarch Queen Elizabeth I, to the dictator Hitler, to the democratically elected Reagan. There is great motion in setting, and in staging – the play begins in Withrow Park and ends in Eastminister United Church, with a guided walk between the two.

It’s a play in three acts but it’s less continuous narrative and more tapestry, with three parts coming together to weave a giant whole, and many threads to follow through it all.

It borrows from the dialectic/immersive tradition of epic theatre to blur the boundaries between performance and life, to question the costumes we wear and the roles we act out, and to request redemption for those who have no “part” in the play.

But most importantly, Passion Play is epic like a really cool shirt or a real tasty slice of pizza. One must overuse a dramatic word to express how enjoyable it is.

Running at four hours long, this production of Passion Play is quite an adventure. At the end I felt like I had been through something. Something wonderful and not easily won. Something epic.


Photo of Andrew Kushnir by Keith Barker