The Unbelievers (Lace Productions) 2016 SummerWorks Review

The Unbelievers

A lot of people will find The Unbelievers difficult to watch. While this SummerWorks show avoids graphic violence, the sight of a twisted and brutalized human being, caked with blood and shivering in pain, is not an easy one. Hannah Rittner’s script dares you to give into the flinch instinct and look away.

But, as she also observes, the fact that we have this choice already tells us something important about violence, trauma, war, and the situation of the Yazedis — and about how the West’s wilful ignorance of world tragedies has begun to look like complicity.

The action is set entirely inside a claustrophobic cell, where a Yazedi woman (Shadi Shahkhalili) has made peace with her circumstances, finding ways of feeding, distracting and humanizing herself amidst the cold, hot, dust and squalor. When a captured Canadian journalist (Sarah Baskin) is unexpectedly added to the pot, this careful existence collapses, and the experiences, expectations and traumas of both women drive the play.

So much of this play depends upon information and experiences which are meant to shock and disquiet the audience, and I’m going to do what I can to avoid spoilers — but I will say that Baskin walks a careful tightrope, balancing two conflicting roles baked into one character; Shahkhalili’s portrait of an entire class of women is stunning and does them full justice, elevating them above mere victims without losing sight of that victimization; and director Marina McClure’s ability to balance humanizing and confrontational elements of this story is a gift to the other artists involved, gelling a play which could have easily degenerated into trauma porn.

Designer Anahita Dehbonehie’s set is a remarkable piece of work on its own merits, simple but effective — but what’ll really take your breath away is the ending, where Rittner and McClure conspire to hit the audience square between the eyes. You’ll leave this one a changed person.


The Unbelievers plays at the Theatre Centre BMO Incubator. (1115 Queen Street West, enter down the ramp at the side of the building)

Remaining performances:

  • Sunday August 14th, 4:45 PM – 5:45 PM

Be advised that this show features frank and graphic depictions of trauma resulting from violence, including sexual violence. Many audience members will find the subject matter and the staging to be difficult to watch. Recommended for ages 15+.

Most 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.

Image provided by the company