Utopia (Theatre Free Radical) 2013 SummerWorks Review

Utopia

Utopia. It’s a bold title for a play, right? It’s got all kinds of philosophical baggage that comes with it. Any work of art that stamps such a word on a program owes some allegiance to the weight of that baggage. At SummerWorks this year, Len Falkenstein’s Utopia can wear its title with pride.

The story is this: Karen owns a farm she loves, handed down to her from her father, and she is determined to make a living from it, and create a life for her daughter, Jess. Jess doesn’t want that life, she wants to run off with one of the farm workers—Zach. Into this little family drama, a planet appears and attaches itself to Karen’s property. This planet is full of the natural resources we’ve almost completely squandered here on earth, and those resources attract the attention of corporations and politicians. Will Karen agree to sell her claim to this planet, or will she protect it (as an extension of her farm)?

The play perfectly blends the storybook allegory into the naturalistic family drama. Does this other planet actually exist or is it just a hallucination? A metaphor? Of course, the play doesn’t tell you… it just invites you along for the ride.

The dialogue and performances perfectly capture that unique rural Canadian vibe. It isn’t just the “eh” (though there is plenty of that). It is the subtle cadences, the phrasing, and more importantly, the attitudes of the characters.

Len Falkenstein’s direction has all of the action set against a backdrop of projected images. These images never show the planet, that is always left to our imaginations. But we do see the farm, the sky and interiors. These projected sets add to the storybook feel of the production, and trigger that sense that we are meant to learn something from the events as they unfold.

Rebekah Chassé is heartbreaking as a mother desperately trying to forge some lasting connection to a daughter she no longer understands. There were times when, with no words spoken, I felt a lump rise in my throat as her eyes searched her daughter’s face for some recognition. Sam Kamras as Jess perfectly captures the obstinacy and rebellion of youth, that seething resentment of someone who thinks she knows what’s best without much actual life experience.

Is Utopia just a metaphor for how we often find our perfect world in our own backyard? I think it goes much deeper than that. While Jess would like to see all the money from a sale of the property (farm and planet), Karen would like to pass on the farm itself and the history it contains. I think the story is about the legacy we leave our children, and how important it is to recognize the value in a shared history.

Utopia is a thoughtful and heartwarming little gem of a play. Despite the fantasy aspects of the plot, the play is honest. It charmed me completely. It’s a must see at this year’s SummerWorks!

Details:

  • Utopia plays at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Ave.)
  • Show times: Friday August 9, 5:00 pm; Saturday August 10, 7:30 pm; Sunday August 11, 12:00 pm; Monday August 12, 2:30 pm; Wednesday August 14, 10:00 pm; Thursday August 15, 5:00 pm; Sunday August 18, 2:30 pm
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Photo of Sam Kamras and Rebekah Chassé provided by Theatre Free Radical