This is a hard one. Shadowlands, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, ended quite a few hours ago and I’m still staring into space deciphering what I just saw. On the surface, it’s one of those non-linear pieces of storytelling where each bit and piece at first glance makes absolutely no sense until you follow the rabbit hole to the end.
Only thing is, this story is also told in darkness with shards of concentrated light meant to direct your attention for a bizarre and intriguing effect.
Shadowlands is a one-woman show by Savanna Harvey, an Edmonton native debuting her latest play at the Toronto Fringe. In this piece, she takes on numerous characters performed all in the dark — scientist, ghost, mouse, and cells in a petri dish. With each character, she utilizes a different form of directed light to tell their tales from glowsticks to LED string lights to create for one visually dramatic show.
This is one of those slow build performances. When it starts, it’s not cohesive in the slightest. Disembodied voices speak of an emergency evacuation procedure while Harvey stands at the corner of the stage and spins a red lamp. Then she’s a scientist of some sort with the sleeves of her lab coat lit up, a glowstick as her test tube, starting test number 32 after 31 failed attempts.
Then she’s a rodent in a cage caught in a daily routine of excitement over water in a bottle and food pellets in a dish. Holding a glowing orb to her stomach, she laments the wonders of bearing a child. Crawling into an iridescent sack — which I thought represented the womb at first — she waxes poetic about being a product of the universe.
Throughout the show, she shifts between all these personas and the trick is to trust and follow along to learn how all of these pieces ultimately connect.
And yes, it starts out slow. Maybe it was the late hour of the show and my steadily growing exhaustion that insisted I make my decision about it within the first 20 minutes. The decision being that I didn’t like it and wanted to go home but I resisted, waited it out and followed along. I’m glad I did as I found the final resolution, as all parts fell into place, to be a rather satisfying conclusion and a smart one at that.
It being late, and with the audience already sitting in the dark for a while, I didn’t appreciate a bright lamp being pointed directly at my eyes for quick, sporadic moments. But since that light came with her portrayal of the mouse, the character I enjoyed the most, I endured the discomfort.
During this performance, I was surprised to see that I was part of the smallest Fringe audience I’ve ever seen, three people, myself included. Granted, it was opening night, and it was late, but indeed I hope that Harvey’s audience grows throughout her Fringe run here. If you’re as puzzled by what Shadowlands is as I was before I went in, I implore you to trust your instinct and the unknown and find out for yourself.
- Shadowlands plays at the Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst St.)
- 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.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route which requires a staff escort. Check in at the box office at least 20 minutes prior to showtime.
- Thursday July 6th, 10:30 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 05:45 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 09:45 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 12:30 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 07:30 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 03:30 pm
- Sunday July 16th, 12:00 pm
Photo by Savanna Harvey