Review: The Killing Game (Art & Lies Productions)

The Killing Game is an absurd and bizarre dark comedy playing at Toronto’s Annex Theatre in time for Halloween

‘Ring Around the Rosie’ was a song we all sang as kids and then learned, years later, the true meaning behind the nursery tune – the black plague. The juxtaposition of a lilting kids’ song to deliver a lesson of history’s most devastating pandemic is greatly exaggerated in an avant-garde and absurdist way in Eugene Ionesco’s The Killing Game presented by Art & Lies Productions.

Numerous single act vaudevillian skits performed with as much outlandish kitsch and dazzling jazz handed grandeur as the production’s team of 18 actors can muster make up the evening’s two hour show. In the style of absurdist theatre with a nod to theatre of the macabre, The Killing Game, playing at the Annex Theatre, is a perfect precursor to Halloween festivities.

The series of one act skits begins with the discovery of a deceased child with no witness to the culprit. Rumors and accusations spread through the burg in attempts to identify this invisible killer. Soon hysteria is born and grows to a fever pitch when people start dropping like flies one by one.

Following closely behind is a grim reaper in black wearing a beaked plague mask collecting the souls the plague has left behind.

The scenes that follow examine the many ways the spreading of the plague affected the mass populace – from an obsession with hygiene and cleanliness, to the science vs. religion debate as to the cause and salvation, to the intimacy of the slow and tragic goodbye to an infected beloved.

The rather large cast all take on various roles throughout the different scenes so it’s difficult to pick out specific highlights. Rather, it is best to address the cast as a whole for they all performed as a well-oiled machine creating something truly unique.

Absurdist theatre is exactly what it sounds like. It is abstract and bizarre, it is showy, brass and over the top. It is exaggerated movements, accents, posing, all meant to draw out laughs from the audience. It takes a very dark and macabre subject and shines a light that allows for humor. And it is through this that the audience is entertained.

The Annex Theatre that serves as venue is exceptionally well used to draw added effect to the performance – the space is rather intimate with the performances usually less than a few feet away from the front row. The actors make their entrances and exits through the aisles past the audience. The stairs leading to the upper parts of the stage are used frequently which – paired with music cues and quick lighting – draws the audience’s attention rapidly throughout the space.

The finer details including the frantic hair, stressed white makeup, and disheveled costuming add to the eccentricity of the show – one that is propelled by the palpable energy of the cast to create a truly extraordinary theatrical experience.

Details

  • The Killing Game is playing at the Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst St.)
  • Performance dates are Wednesday – Friday (October 16-18) at 8 pm except on Friday – performances at 7 pm and 10 pm.
  • Tickets are $22 for general admission and $18 for students/seniors/arts workers.
  • Tickets can be picked up in advance at totix.ca or at the door.

Photo by Danie Friesen, provided by the company.