Lac/Athabasca (Theatre Free Radical) 2015 SummerWorks Review


Lac/Athabasca, playing at this year’s Toronto SummerWorks Festival,  is based on the Lac-Mégantic train derailment disaster of 2013. It also takes into account the affect oil mining has on the environment and the local residing people. The story line is non-linear with different characters and their stories weaving in and around each other, culminating in an explosive end.

The weaving  of these stories requires that the audience pay close attention to track the various tales, because at first they don’t seem to have a point of commonality and it’s easy to find this distracting.

The play includes two 19th Century fur traders followed by an unseen dark force, two scientists studying fish populations and cancer cells down river from the oil sands, and the residents of a small town in the aftermath of the preventable tragedy. The five actors involved – Jake Martin, Rebekah Chassé, Jean-Michel Cliche, Emily Bossé, and Alex Donovan – take on various characters and are punctuated by a fine technical display in lighting, sound, and projections.

I’m battling mixed feelings on this production. On one hand, the cast did a fine job with the script they were given. Their performances were real and visceral, their on-stage chemistry palpable. I thoroughly enjoyed Chassé’s portrayal of Janice the scientist in particular when she broke down from post-traumatic stress recalling a near-death close call. Just as when Cliche as Thierry makes a startling late-night discovery, I felt their performances shone.

However, I found myself losing the ebb and flow of the story very quickly. The pacing felt stunted, dipping and dragging at times and I was losing track of the direction these stories were going in. Often I found myself getting restless, wondering when the story was going to pick up.

I find the subject matter very intriguing and I think would make great theatre., but I didn’t feel I was able to connect with the way it was done here. In particular, I found the fur traders story out of place and without a direct correlation to the other modern stories taking place.

The technical aspects of this performance paired with the cast do make this performance worthwhile. Mike Johnston’s projections and set design add great atmosphere to the show along with Eric Hill’s original music.

Lac/Athabasca stands out for its cast and technical team but I couldn’t find myself investing in the production’s pacing. It’s worth seeing for the talent involved, though you may find yourself losing interest midway through — as I noticed other members in the audience checking out to catch a few Z’s.


Lac/Athabasca plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Ave.

Show times:

  • Sunday August 9th 9:45 PM
  • Tuesday August 11th 4:30 PM
  • Thursday August 13th 7:00 PM
  • Friday August 14th 4:30 PM
  • Saturday August 15th 9:45 PM

Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online at, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows

Photo provided by the company