Rich performances breathe depth into The Wanderers at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Kawa Ada has produced a script layered with light and darkness that travels between Afghanistan and Canada, real and imagined, lore and legitimacy. And director Nina Lee Aquino has worked beautifully to bring both extremes to life.
Lee Aquino has created something magical with the help of an evocative and multifunctional set design by Camilla Koo and sometimes ethereal lighting by Michelle Ramsay. These were juxtaposed beautifully by careful, realistic costuming from Ming Wong, and Michelle Bensimon’s skillfully created sound design provides an unobtrusive ambiance. This is a production filled with incredible talent from all directions.
Perhaps taking its lead from most of the actors, the set itself plays multiple roles: the ruins of a replica of a throne in a park in Kabul; a pizza place in Toronto; a Laundromat in Scarborough; and a house in Sudbury.
All the actors in the piece brought strong performances to the show. I was impressed by Dalal Badr in her roles as Mariam and as Alice, and Melanie Janzen had my teeth on edge in her role as Marie–which I think was the point. Omar Alex Khan was great as Joseph and as the Old Aman. But the person who really stole the show for me was Kawa Ada: his Young Aman was great, but his Roshan was fantastic.
It might be easy to brush this off, say that he wrote the piece and he has already said it’s partially autobiographical, so isn’t he just playing himself? But actually, I believe that makes it harder. I think the fact that he did so well speaks volumes about him as an actor, Aquino as a director, and about Ric Knowles as a Dramaturge¹.
Now, with all this glowing praise you’d think I basically thought it was a perfect show, right? Here’s the thing: up until intermission, I possibly damn near did. I LOVED it. My show partner, MoT’s own Managing Editor, Wayne Leung, also loved it. We talked about how it felt like a modern fable, how the story was so compelling, how we were drawn right in, how the effect of the sand floating in the mist was magical. We had nothing but praise.
Then we went back after intermission. And this is where the piece lost us. This isn’t to say that it suddenly became some theatre mishap, not at all. It just, I’m not sure how to describe it, deflated? The feeling of the show changed. We were disappointed.
I am hesitant to write this because it is really not descriptive enough, but it’s also what I’ve been telling people in conversations, so I feel like it’s really at the core of it for me. It started feeling like it was trying too hard to be “artsy”. It no longer felt grounded. Perhaps it’s because it deals with some afterlife issues, but that shouldn’t matter: it should still find a way to be grounded.
Perhaps most damning of all is that I kind of feel like that second part, the part after intermission – technically parts four and five according to the program – did not feel necessary to the piece for me.
There were moments after the intermission that were necessary, but the second part was not necessary as a whole. Wayne and I agreed that a quick dash across the stage by a character felt important, but her long return later did not. That quick dash conveyed all the information we really felt we needed.
Again, I didn’t think that second part was bad per se. I just didn’t feel like it fit, like it didn’t meet the expectations set by the very excellent first part of the piece.
So, please don’t let the fact that I didn’t love the second part dissuade you from seeing the show. Theatre, as with all art, it is fueled by personal preference. Perhaps the second part will be your favourite part. But, even if you have the same feelings as Wayne and I, it’s well worth seeing. After all, how many shows can boast a near-perfect before intermission?
Personally, I can’t wait to see it again, in another incarnation, once the playwright has had some time to sit with it and feel out the pieces that are most important to him. It’s amazing what one can learn from finally getting something up in front of an audience.
- The Wanderers is playing until March 23, 2014 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with an additional 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $31 – $37 (or $26 – $31 for Arts Workers and people under 30), with rush tickets available from $20 and Sunday PWYC tickets available at the door
- Tickets are available from the box office, by phone 416-975-8555 (a $3 convenience fee is added to purchases made by phone) or online.
Photo of Kawa Ada and Dala Badr by Dahlia Katz
¹We don’t talk about dramaturges much in reviews, because frankly, it’s not something that someone who’s looking to find out whether or not to go to a show cares much about. That said, in the case of a quasi-autobiographical piece where the author is playing the role of ‘sort of him or herself’, I think it’s pretty important. For those wondering what a dramaturge does, in the case of the development of a new play, my take on it is this: it can be kind of like a combination of an editor and a writing coach. You ask a lot of questions, and you put forward a number of challenges. This ‘definition’ probably will be disputed in the comments, and I welcome that. There are a multitude of definitions, but that is the best high-level quickie one I can come up with right now.