Extremophiles, playing at The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator as part of the 2016 SummerWorks Festival, is the story of an anthropologist cataloging an unusual microsociety with apocalyptic overtones. The play is a lyrically written, dark and creepy exploration of human relationships and body horror. Surreal, intriguing, and more than a little disturbing, it forces members of the audience to take a critical look at themselves and their environment.
In Extremophiles, it’s the year 2020, and all women have become mysteriously pregnant. Most of the pregnancies were forcibly terminated or miscarried, but a select few, like Margaret, gave birth – and gave birth to a very unexpected child and a strange, transformative condition. Exiled up north, their lives become the purview of doctors and anthropologists, like April, a Master’s student who can’t help but become involved in the strange mother-child relationship at great risk to herself.
Playwright and solo performer Georgina Beaty is an engaging presence, differentiating effectively between the naive, excitable April and the more world-weary Margaret with simple changes in voice and bearing. April in particular is delightfully eager and provides some needed moments of levity in her “cultural missteps.” She pokes fun at the tendency of academics to become paternalistic toward their subjects by using a self-aware subject who can easily bite back.
Though the show is mostly visually dark (to match the subject matter), it’s quite inventive with its spotlight visuals, including eerie projections, a very animated tank of water that provides some excellent visual gags and even character moments, and a storybook with intricate cutouts.
The surreal elements of the text are its driving force and are quite engaging, but the overall mechanics of the new world aren’t entirely clear. The mystery is tantalizing, but also gives the play the uneasy feeling of an allegory that never quite coalesces into something complete, despite the obvious links to environmental angst and climate change. I was also left wanting to know more about Doctor Jeffers, whose character receives a climactic moment but has a somewhat underdeveloped journey (a hazard of being the only character who doesn’t appear on stage).
The idea of a very modern anthropology being performed on the world’s smallest “tribe” is fascinating (the play defines anthropology as the study of “what is happening right here, right now”), and the connection it perhaps most successfully makes is that of the theatre artist to the anthropologist, both on a journey of discovery about humanity.
Part academic study, part flight of fancy, and part cry of grief, Extremophiles, isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. It features some graphic descriptions of violence, almost constant stories of body horror and transformation, and is bound to cause a little discomfort. If you’re willing to go to extremes, however, it’s worth the journey.
Extremophiles plays at The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator (1115 Queen Street West)
- Saturday August 6th, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- Sunday August 7th, 10:30 PM – 11:30 PM
- Monday August 8th, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
- Thursday August 11th, 9:30 PM – 10:30 PM
- Saturday August 13th, 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
- Sunday August 14th, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Youth Series tickets are $10, Live Art Series ticket prices vary. Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo of Georgina Beaty by Dahlia Katz