PANAMANIA presents It Comes in Waves, a unique immersive play on the Toronto Islands
It Comes in Waves is a piece that defies the conventions of theatre. Performed as part of PANAMANIA, the arts and culture festival presented in conjunction with the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, the show is an immersive, site-specific piece staged in different indoor and outdoor spaces on the Toronto Islands and features elements of song, dance, and script. It’s also the first time I’ve had to sign a waiver before a show.
The audience is instructed to meet at the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre; the show begins with the audience boarding three large Voyageur canoes (that’s where the waiver comes in) and paddling across the harbour to the Toronto Islands. After a 30-minute canoe journey that’s both relaxing and meditative, the Toronto skyline disappears as we round the bend into Hanlan’s Bay and arrive at our destination; the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.
A lone figure (Stephen O’Connell) greets us and leads us on a meandering journey to various locations throughout the island where he’s joined by other performers: Ciara Adams, Lucy Simic, and Richard Windeyer. The show they eventually sketch out for us in a series of scenes is essentially a meditation on grief and coming to terms with loss, though the tone is playful through most of the show.
I really loved the slightly disorienting, dream-like quality to the show. Some of the imagery is truly stunning; a clearing in the woods lit by hanging bulbs surrounding a single microphone that dangles from the forest canopy; a beach filled with lanterns as a lone figure stands partially submerged in the water holding up a glowing road flare; a seemingly endless path created by crumpled paper lanterns lining a beach as a solo dancer performs on a distant jetty.
Kudos to the entire production design team for creating these beautiful, immersive dreamscapes.
Events culminate in a party scene where the initially festive mood takes a bit of a darker turn and that’s when I thought the show unravelled a bit. Director Jennifer Tarver makes a valiant effort to fuse the different performance elements; the music, the big choreography that has dancers flinging themselves across the room, sometimes performing inches away from audience members, and playwright Jordan Tannahill’s fractured yet vaguely poetic dialogue.
That scene ought to have been the emotional climax of the piece but I thought it felt muddled, the disparate elements never really coalesced and I struggled to connect with it. As a result I didn’t feel like I got a satisfying payoff for the elaborate rituals that preceded.
Regardless, the journey itself is well worth taking. It Comes in Waves is beautiful, haunting and unconventional but it’s also a lot of fun and a great way to spend a summer evening on the Toronto Islands.
- It Comes in Waves is playing from July 15 to 24, 2015. Audiences meet at Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak, 283 Queens Quay West in Toronto.
- Shows run Monday to Sunday at 7:40 p.m.
- Tickets ($30 to $45) are available online
Photos provided by the company