Review: Kingdom (Contra Theatre)

photo of Kingdom castContra Theatre’s Kingdom tackles a complex, disturbing subject with nuanced precision

Seeing Contra Theatre‘s Kingdom tonight at Tarragon Theatre satisfied dual parts of me: the part that loves morbidly creepy stories, and the part that loves really good theatre.

Kingdom is a story about long-term captivity and the complicated ways that can play out. It’s about memory, imagination, and how humans can and do adapt to terrifyingly horrible circumstances.

I brought my friend Josh along as my companion tonight. He has a particular interest in stories of long-term captivity. Back when the world learned about Elizabeth Smart, he was glued to the television set. More recent stories, like the Ariel Castro kidnappings, kept him glued to his laptop. Sadly these stories are all too common off-stage, but we were both excited to see how such a tale would be woven on-stage.

I’m happy to say neither of us were disappointed. In fact, discussing the show afterwards, neither of us could find any meaningful flaws.

Walking into the Tarragon Theatre‘s Workspace — an intimate room with limited space — we first noticed child-like drawings perched on each chair. We discovered — to our delight — that these were in fact the programs. Yes! You get to keep the drawings!

The set was perfect: dark, small, yet fit for a captive princess. It was complete with a tiny bed, a tiny desk, tiny chairs, in all manner of pink, and yet it maintained a dungeon-like vibe.

Before the show officially began, Scout (Annelise Hawrylak) scampered about, drawing the “walls” with pink chalk around the perimeter of the stage. A mysterious character (whose story I won’t reveal here), she completely embodied a curious, mischievous, innocent little girl. Her language, fluid and effortless movements (like dramatically sighing and dropping weightlessly to the floor), and facial expressions made it easy to forget we were watching an adult.

Next we meet Nora (Meghan Greeley), the captive princess. It all seems so cute at first, with Scout playfully waking her. But it soon becomes clear that days are being tracked on a calendar, and that years have passed in this tiny room. Nora is the responsible, older, more cautious contrast to Scout.

Again, the performance was incredible. The way she quietly, carefully dresses, prepares herself, and delivers her lines — which in my opinion are part of a magnificent, subtle, powerful script — let us forget that we were watching a grown actress, not a teenaged captive suffering from pretty serious Stockholm syndrome. Her performance was restrained, as befit her character, and very intense.

Just as the tension starts building, Sir (David Ferry) emerges, and I am immediately creeped out. If I had to describe or picture an image of a child kidnapper, it would be him. On the surface he may look “normal” enough, but there’s a tension brimming below his surface.

Everything about his character — from the slicked-down hair, to the glasses, the suit, and even his stubble — screamed CREEP. While there were some well-timed angry outbursts, his performance was incredibly nuanced and a bit reserved, and he said a lot without using words. I suggest a good seat with an unobstructed view of his face.

There was nothing over-the-top about the performances, and his stood out to me in particular. It may be the best performance I’ve seen on stage yet. It must be difficult for actors to step into dark, scary roles like this one, but he completely owned it. To myself and Josh, he WAS that creepy stranger danger our parents warned us about.

The content of this story is disturbing, but they skirted the line between effective and overly graphic very well. Much was hinted at rather than uncomfortably shown. I won’t tell you what ultimately happens, but I will say this: if you like really amazing acting and darker subjects, don’t miss Kingdom.


    • Kingdom is playing until September 14, 2016 at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.)
    • See website for showtimes
    • Tickets are $22, with PWYC on Sundays, and are available online, or through the box office at 416-531-1827

Photo provided by the company