Theatre of the Beat borrows its name from the Beatniks. It is a theatre company that looks to deliver the kind of nervous energy that fueled the polemical practices of the Beat writers – a loose group who I’ll identify here by its common dissatisfaction with the times, people who could no longer stand the passivity of citizenship. This is the appeal of This Prison Or: He Came Through the Floor, Theatre of the Beat’s contribution to the Toronto Fringe Festival this year.
Set in a single-occupancy prison cell, the play is a rather literal staging of Plato’s Cave. When a man bursts suddenly through the floor, the inmate to greet him is so chained by a delusional worldview that he becomes the only obstacle to his own freedom. Of course, this depends on what definition of freedom we take and subsequently what activities we find to symbolize our notion of liberty. The dialogue between the two men forces the audience through a Matrix-esque consideration of reality that leaves me wondering about my own sense of freedom. In what conditions do we understand our selves? Are we guided or simply restricted by our ideas? How are we ever to know?
The questions we are asked to brood over are delivered in an appropriately skittish tone. The characters plead with one another through a script that is loud and fast. This is a tug o‘ war with the audience smack dab in the middle–right where the rope chafes against itself, twisting to the break.
Clever use of the entire theatre helps to establish this immersive environment. The characters move around us as do the lights appear here, there, then everywhere. At certain points during the production the characters are so precisely framed by the lighting that I am able to forget myself. The cell on stage is the only sight from this seat – our seats – in which we become part and parcel to the problem at hand. We are corroborators of a system in which the figures on view are imprisoned by our very sight of them… in a very Socratic turn of arguments, the question is suddenly – how in the world did we get here?
As Theatre of the Beat promises to do, This Prison Or: He Came Through the Floor also engages current issues regarding capital punishment and justice, and in enough layers to address the problems separately and in relation to one another. One especially poignant issue, to me, that the characters bring up is who anybody is to act the saviour. Indeed our friend, the inmate, reacts scoffingly each time the word ‘save’ is mentioned.
Nothing about the play is simple: from the premise (a man digging through into a prison cell?) to its conclusion, there is plenty to think about. While I do not find the performance particularly funny, it’s entertaining. Running at a quick 60 minutes, it’s just comfortable enough a period to be stuck in somebody else’s imagination – or is it?
This Prison Or: He Came Through the Floor is playing at Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street).
July 03 – 08:45 PM
July 06 – 11:30 PM
July 07 – 04:00 PM
July 09 – 10:45 PM
July 11 – 01:45 PM
July 12 – 11:30 PM
July 13 – 05:15 PM
- Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10 ($5 for FringeKids), cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
- Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.