Review: What I learned from a decade of fear (Aluna Theatre)

What I learned from a decade of fear Aluna Theatre

Toronto’s Aluna Theatre’s What I learned from a decade of fear is a thought-provoking play about terrorism

Aluna Theatre’s What I learned from a decade of fear is a thoroughly fascinating, complex interrogation of the concept of global terror. I came to the performance prepared to be challenged, stimulated, and frustrated and it delivered in abundance on all three fronts.

The performance begins with a long procession of statistics about terrorism and war being written down and read aloud by the two actors in the show. My initial instinct was to roll my eyes at the mundane way that the barrage of statistics was being delivered to me, since I find this sort of heavy-handed technique so boring, but an argument made later in the show about the necessity of always keeping the experiences of others in mind caused me to reconsider that position.

By the time that the performance had moved into the interrogation that formed the majority of the rest of the hour-long show, I was more on board. Both Beatriz Pizano and Lyon Smith give strong performances that make you want to watch them, but an audience looking to be merely entertained by the show might be disappointed by its emotional evenness.

To give the actors’ performances more depth and immediacy, What I learned from a decade of fear employs a really cool, high tech technique: the actors speak to cameras and close-cropped images of their faces are projected onto the same space on the back wall that the statistics were projected onto as they speak. The result gives the audience the same sort of false intimacy that watching an actor on film does by using the same technique and its execution in this performance is stunning.

I feel like I didn’t catch the significance of every single action that occurred on stage, but the performance is so rich that I was fully satisfied with what I did catch. I think that this sort of perspective is vital to understanding and enjoying a piece that has the potential to be as rewarding as this one. The performance asks its audience to reflect on its assumptions about so many things that it would be impossible to catch them all in such a short amount of time.

Among the most affecting assumptions about terrorism and surveillance is perhaps the way that Pizano’s Interrogator builds an argument to frame Smith’s character as a radical. The story she builds around his admission, that he would kill a man to keep this man from killing his son for a jar of jam, makes ridiculous leaps in logic that left me frustrated beyond belief. Given that it was supposed to mirror the way that suspected terrorists are interrogated, it left me with a lot to think about.

The same can be said about the disturbing footage of an American soldier shooting and killing of a group of men. The footage is incorporated into the performance in a discussion about violent video games, and it suggests many shocking and powerful arguments. That part of the performance is certainly not for the faint of heart (or stomach).

If you’re like me and you like your theatre to be thought provoking and enraging in equal measure, you might want to check out this show. What I learned from a decade of fear is a must see for anyone who has ever staked a claim in the conversation surrounding terrorism. The show is a skillful interrogation of a concept that is inescapable in our modern world and it presents a variety of valid insights that can help us to better understand and to overcome it.


  • What I learned from a decade of fear is playing until Nov. 30 at Aluna Theatre (1 Wiltshire Avenue #124)
  • Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8 PM, with a 2:30PM matinee on Sundays
  • Tickets are $15 for general admission or $12 for seniors, students, and arts workers and are available online.

Photo of Beatriz Pizano and Lyon Smith by Trevor Schwellnus.

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