Toronto’s Videofag presents a macabre, intellectual thriller; A Man Vanishes
When a Montreal man mysteriously vanishes only to suddenly reappear two months later at Toronto’s Videofag, he claims to have no recollection of how he got there or even who he is. Tired and confused, he finds refuge with the partners and residents of Videofag, played by Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis. A Man Vanishes follows the case of his disappearance as chronicled by a documentary filmmaker’s investigation into the case.
This piece by playwright Greg MacArthur is loosely inspired by the 1967 film-noir classic by Shohei Imamura of the same name. It’s a macabre, intellectual piece that used mixed media to create a suspenseful plotline, complete with a twist ending. (So you’ll have to forgive me for not delving too deep into the narrative structure of this play!)
There’s a lot to love with this production. The writing is crisp and poignant, and the pacing shifts seamlessly between moments of sheer ridiculousness and times of despair. In particular, the dialogue and interaction between the characters was very organic – never seeming forced or overly contrived. MacArthur allows for a slow, suspenseful journey to the show’s climax and denouement by peppering pieces of poignant information between genuine slice-of-life moments between his characters.
I’ve always been a big fan of this kind of storytelling, where the audience is gently teased into the horror and grotesqueness that lies behind a seemingly safe façade. As the documentary filmmaker, played by Ishan Davé, slowly unravels the partners’ web of lies, we realize that blind trust and taking things at face value has its – sometimes deadly – risks.
In this particular production, we’re shown past interviews with people who knew the missing person, as well as the live feed from the documentary filmmaker’s camera. There are even moments where the actors leave the room, but we’re still shown what’s on the camera, allowing for a very surreal viewing experience. At some moments, we’re essentially watching real time events, while during others, we’re getting a first-person look at what happened in the past. I loved the continuity this created.
This piece also makes fantastic use of its venue. If you’ve never been to a show a Videofag, one of the first things that you’ll notice is that it’s a very intimate performance space. Shows usually take place in a long corridor, with audience seats on both sides. A Man Vanishes makes fantastic use of this space, with scenes taking place not only in the main corridor, but also in the back room and even the exit to the street.
With regards to the acting, I thought each performer did aptly. The reads were a little robotic at times, but I believe that’s probably due to the cast still finding their rhythm and onstage chemistry with one another. And while I loved the content of the dialogue, the execution felt a little disconnected. For example, there were a few moments where the script obviously called for one character to interrupt another, but timing gap between the two characters seemed a bit disjointed. Also, if you’re interrupted by somebody, you shouldn’t look like you’re just waiting for the other person to finish so that you can say your next lines. However, these are very minor complaints and at least for me, I don’t think they detracted too much from the overall calibre of the production. As this show runs a few more times, I’m sure these things will easily be ironed out.
A Man Vanishes is a very strong production overall, and one that’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the noir/macabre genre.
- A Man Vanishes runs until March 20th at Videofag (187 Augusta Avenue).
- Tickets range from $16.51 – $21.80 , and can be purchased online, in person at the box office prior to showtime
Photo courtesy of Videofag.