It’s the end of the world, and two strangers find themselves sharing a bench in a train station, waiting for the lottery that will decide who gets to take the last train south from Paris. In Now What Theatre‘s Kara Sevda, playing as part of the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, the question is not so much if the world is ending, but what it means to keep surviving.
The play starts off simply enough: a man sits down next to a woman on a bench. Both are waiting to hear if they will be called in the lottery to board the last train out of Paris. Celia (Kat Haan) is headed to Rome to try and find an ex-lover, which Rhys (Ross Somerville) thinks is a suicide mission. Rhys, meanwhile, is on his way to meet friends who can get him further south and away from the nuclear fallout—friends who may or may not still be waiting.
The pair start out guarded, each more eager to talk about the other than themselves. The tone is often deliberately mundane: they play cards, banter and bicker, share snacks and sweaters. That mundanity is underscored with the constant tension of the surrounding apocalypse. As both are gradually forced to confront their past regrets in the face of the world’s end, everything feels just a little sideways and surreal. What better time to work through your shit than in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse?
Occasionally the sounds of nuclear conflict burst in to break up their rapport, and both characters revert to powerfully performed inner monologues, where they relive scenes from their past. It’s a lot for two actors to carry, but both Haan and Somerville are skilled at playing silent conflict and layering out those emotional beats with careful precision.
Somerville is a strong presence on stage. In his performance, you can see two distinct characters at war with each other: the good-natured, jokey guy who cares deeply for his family, and the grim pragmatist who has seen the worst of humanity. Somerville threads the remnants of the man Rhys was before the apocalypse hit with the darker edges he developed after, negotiating both parts of him with understated elegance.
Haan’s Celia is more of a wry optimist, and her performance is raw and generous, even as her character is reluctant to share. Her character is carrying a huge amount of emotional weight, and Haan is in full command of it. She lets it bleed out slowly, building the character’s pain and regret until it culminates to a series of controlled explosions.
What I admire about the show overall is that Celia and Rhys don’t feel like mouthpieces for certain ideas or themes or character traits. They feel, in a very real and genuine way, like two random people who find an unexpected way of venting their pain at the worst possible moment (or, arguably, the best). In doing so, the play feels deeply and complexly human, eschewing grand statements about humanity for something smaller, even more profound: a few hours of empathy between two strangers on the verge of the end of the world. That it works as well as it does without ever feeling overwhelmingly heavy is a real credit to playwright Lisa VillaMil’s writing and director Liz Thaler’s delicate touch at threading it all together.
Kara Sevda is a moving and complex work that deserves to be seen. Don’t miss your chance to weather the nuclear winter with this fine production.
- Kara Sevda plays at the St. Vladimir Institute. (620 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. After the building’s business hours, a staff member will need to escort you through this route, so plan to arrive early for evening shows.
- Thursday July 6th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 07:30 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 03:30 pm
- Monday July 10th, 06:45 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 11:30 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 01:45 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 07:30 pm
Photo of Tierney Nolen by Kaija Pellinen.