The 20th of November, on stage at Buddies in Toronto, is theatre that is “challenging” and less “entertainment”
Leaving the theatre after the opening of The 20th of November at Buddies in Bad Times, I ran (almost literally) into Toronto cabaret luminary Ryan G. Hinds arriving for the season’s opening party. “Did you enjoy the show?” he asked me with enthusiasm? I blinked at him, still getting my emotional bearings, and slowly replied “I… don’t think it’s a show you’re supposed to enjoy.”
The 20th of November is a solo work by Swedish playwright Lard Noren, though the text of the show is taken mostly from the video diaries of a German school shooter, Sebastien Bosse, recorded just hours before he opened fire in his former school. It’s delivered by PrideCab alum Sina Gilani to a single-depth circle of audience members who all sit, fully lit and entirely uncomfortable, under Gilani’s direct and measuring gaze for the entire 80 minutes of performance.
The effect of the staging devised by director Brendan Healy is very present and I found it quite taxing. There’s no way to do anything – shift in your seat, clear your throat, check your watch, scratch an itch – beyond notice. And so, quite confronted, we were all forced to stay present and engage with the difficult material. This creates a valuable metanarrative but it also makes the already-challenging work more difficult to access. I found that I struggled hard not to just check out periodically with self-soothing daydreams, and wondered what would happen to audience members not prepared to wrestle with those promptings. A few audience members left mid-show, and a couple more eventually just closed their eyes in surrender.
Gilani, with a few technical gadgets and a pitcher of water, makes a lot of this role. He’s unflinching raw and real in his portrayal of Bosse, and yet so technically proficient that he even nails the slurred ‘S’ and ‘D’ sounds of a native German speaker with excellent English skills. The best part about Gilani in this is his great range, moving from exhausted to enraged to reflective to righteous without making the audience feel randomly whiplashed, as though he were drawing cards from a Your Feelings deck. Gilani make each of the transitions legible, which is ultimately what got me though the show.
The 20th of November isn’t really a show to enjoy. It’s a challenge, not an entertainment. There are no whiz-bang visuals and no naked boys (either alluring or alarming) to distract yourself with; no one is going to burst into song. The play forces confrontation: why are we still doing the daily things of life? What do we imagine will be our reward? Perhaps most importantly, who will provide this reward, and what will it cost them?
There’s a big payoff in The 20th of November, if you’re prepared to do the work. For a charming night out, though, you might want to see something else.
- The 20th of November runs until October 4 at Buddies in Bad Times, 20 Alexander Street.
- Performances are at 8 pm Tuesday through Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm.
- Tickets range in price from $20-$32, with PWYC shows on Sundays.
- Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, online, or by phone at 416.975.8555
Photo of Sina Gilani by Jeremy Mimnagh