The Orange Dot lands on the Toronto stage with provocative but mixed messages
The Orange Dot, as presented by Theatrefront at the new Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, is a nuanced, intelligent look at gender relations in the 21st century… until it was not. The production held me and my companion captive until it erupted into an ending that tried to bite off more than it could chew.
The show opens with a couple of Beckettsian construction workers, well-played by Daniela Vlaskalic and Shawn Doyle, waiting for the rest of their team to arrive so they can cut down a neighbourhood tree. While they wait for the perpetually delayed instructions, Natalie and Joe spend their day alternating between arguing and bonding over issues both personal and political.
My companion and I was pleased to find that this repartee between Joe and “Nate” was fantastically written and performed. Playwright Sean Dixon tackles issues of modernity, loneliness, fear-mongering, and environmental destruction without ever losing the particular voices of his characters. More impressively, Dixon shows how issues of gender and gendered power dynamics affects all of the above and the way we behave towards everything and everyone around us.
What made Dixon’s exploration of gender particularly profound is his refusal to tip the scales towards either character for too long. This balance was also supported by two equally stellar performances from Vlaskalic and Doyle, whose slow-simmering chemistry later builds to a perfectly-paced boil. One must also give credit to director Vikki Anderson for always knowing when to let moments breathe, and the evocative time-bending work of lighting designer Siobhan Sleath. The rhythm of the production was often so spot-on that my companion later compared it to George F. Walker at his best.
All that goodwill unfortunately dissipated as we watched with gaping mouths at the play’s sensationalist Venus in Fur-at-its-worst ending, which seemed determined to undermine all the carefully crafted complexity of the previous 75 minutes. As my companion protested, “I was so into it until that whole last bit. What the heck happened?!”
To be fair, I think I can guess at what the playwright was trying to do. Looking back on the production, there were certainly plenty of hints that something was afoot, from the poster design to sinister moments littered throughout the play itself, and one cannot say that the ending was not faithful to the play’s major themes. I have to note as well that this play is a companion piece to Dixon’s well-received A God In Need of Help (as stated in the program) and perhaps if I had watched that production it would’ve all clicked into place.
Nevertheless, I cannot shake my conviction that the play still would have been better without its current ending. The play had already pulled off several successful plot turns and intelligent explorations of complex issues that there was really no need for some Deus ex machina. Not to mention the problematic moment that preceded it where the two characters had a questionably-consensual kiss after one of them was physically abused.
To give the playwright the benefit of a doubt, perhaps the ending was an attempt to illustrate what happens when women are constantly marginalized and dehumanized. Unfortunately, the dialogue in the last few scenes was so strangely underwritten and the performances became so one-dimensional that what I saw instead was a fellow woman being reduced into a caricature of “crazy” and a theatrical argument for why women should be denied power.
I was disappointed at The Orange Dot both as a woman and a feminist, but to be honest, I was mostly sad because I had really enjoyed the production before that ending.
- The Orange Dot plays until April 1st, 2017 at the Guloien Theatre at the Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Avenue).
- Shows run Monday to Saturday at 8 PM with additional Saturday matinees at 2 PM.
- Single tickets are $20-$30. Tickets are available for purchase online, by telephone at 647 341 7390 ext. 1010, or in person at the venue Box Office two hours before each performance.
- The reviewer attended the ASL interpreted performance of this production and is happy to see more theatre companies providing these performances.
Photo of Daniela Vlaskalic and Shawn Doyle by John Lauener.