The Road to Paradise, now on stage in Toronto, offers “admirably balanced empathy”
The Road to Paradise (presented by Crow’s Theatre and Human Cargo), currently playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, is a harrowing look at the traumatic experiences of those involved with the controversial Canadian military operations in Pakistan and Kandahar. Easily one of the best productions I’ve seen all year, The Road to Paradise smartly refuses to provide any easy answers.
I admit I went into the production with some trepidation. Our contributions to the Middle East crisis have already been mined by Canadian playwrights quite extensively in recent memory, and I wondered if another play written from a Western perspective could bring anything new to the conversation.
Thankfully, Jonathan Garfinkel and Christopher Morris’s complex and ambitious script — created from interviews conducted with families of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Pakistan Army, and the Taliban — mostly pulls it off.
The play tells three stories interconnected through recurring characters and events: a child bomber undergoes rehabilitation in Pakistan; a woman living on an army base in Petawawa, Ontario is trying to get to the bottom of how her army husband died in Afghanistan; and a sponsored Afghani family tries to begin a new life in Toronto. In choosing to interweave multiple stories through different perspectives, the playwrights were able to deliver a richer, more complex narrative of the consequences that the controversial war on terror has had on human lives.
I found the last act to be a bit weaker than the others, but in general Garfinkel and Morris write with an admirably balanced empathy. Even smaller characters were allotted the opportunity to explain their point of view. As a result, none of the characters are villains in this piece, but victims of war, poverty, or bureaucracy.
The production was also a masterclass in taking advantage of the immersive nature of in-the-round theatre. We sat in a circle of seats surrounding the stage inside large walls covered with metal sheeting that evoked the feel of a high security military base. There was also a provocative pre-show that called to mind certain recent events in Paris and Kenya. While there were a few moments in the first segment where it seemed like the direction fell into that in-the-round trap of just having the character pace around the room, the sound and lighting design from Michelle Ramsay and Richard Feren were so visceral that we felt like we were voyeurs transported into the private spaces of these characters. My companion was even impressed by how heavy the prop weaponry was.
However, the highlight of The Road to Paradise was undoubtedly the acting ensemble’s phenomenal performances. With a cast that (refreshingly) features mostly actors of colour, every performer had the opportunity to play multiple characters. Although some actors had to portray different genders and ethnicities, the casting choices were all, thankfully, thoughtfully made and added another layer of meaning to the storyline.
I was especially impressed by Beau Dixon and Cheri Maracle, who delivered gut-wrenching, nuanced performances as a couple living with the devastating impacts of PTSD. I was also astonished by Andrew Lawrie, Sanjay Talwar, and Samiya Mumtaz’s incredible transformations across multiple roles.
The one major problem I had with my experience was with the subtitles in the last act. Sometimes the blocking obscured the subtitles while at other times there were some technical glitches in switching from one phrase to the next. This is actually a problem that has plagued multiple shows I’ve seen this year and I hope that someone will soon figure out a better way to integrate them into theatrical performances.
- The Road to Paradise is playing until November 28th at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street).
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with a Sunday matinee at 2:30 PM on November 22nd.
- Tickets are $27 to $37 with a Pay What You Can performance on Sundays and are available online, by phone at 416-975-8555, or in person at the Buddies Box Office.
- This show contains nudity, adult content, and gun shot sound effects.
- There is a talkback at the end of every performance.
Photo of Parwin Mushtael and Samiya Mumtaz by Chris Gallow.