IMP, at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, is an occult-driven play that leaves you “breathless”
Created by Epigraph Collective and produced by Filament Incubator, IMP is a drama that weaves together social justice and the occult in a narrative that is both emotionally raw and stylistically disciplined. I can’t think of the last time a theatrical performance rendered me motionless and breathless for the duration of its run time, but by god, this play did it.
Our tale begins with a setup that could be out of a classic campfire ghost story — a group of young people dabble in the dark arts in order to exact revenge upon the high school bully, with deadly consequences. However, playwright Curtis te Brinke is an extraordinarily candid and savvy writer, and he is well aware of the tropes and tricks of the genre.
His play has many surprising twists with a dash of dark humour, with a depth to the story that made me surprised by it’s 70-minute length. He also doesn’t talk down to his audience, and doesn’t overburden the play with exposition on how magic works or even exists — but, he doesn’t need to. The downside is that people whom aren’t familiar with fantasy or horror genres might be blindsided by some of the subject matter, but the presence of magic ends up being the least of everyone’s worries.
The relationship between magic and the disenfranchised purported in this play isn’t as strange as it may sound. Most literature and popular culture tend to use witches and spellcasters as shorthand for social outcasts, and it is a tried and true symbolism for a reason. The coven members in this play consist of women, queer-identifying folk, and people of colour, their attraction to magic born from their identities as traumatized, brutalized people.
I do, admittedly, have some biases coming into this performance. While reading the programme prior to curtain, I discovered that a number of people involved in the production were alumni of York University’s theatre department, my own alma mater. I knew little about this production or its team before entering the theatre, so I was surprised by this fact. Still, I had to be mindful of whether I was being more favourable towards these artists because of a shared background. However, once the show started, I became transfixed by what was happening and how, rather than whom was doing it.
Performing at the Tarragon Theatre’s studio space, the small audience and intimate venue make for the perfect atmosphere. This play contains frank discussion of violence, sexuality and power, and wouldn’t be nearly as effective if the cast and designers couldn’t employ subtlety. The stagecraft is entrancing, and inspires genuine terror and astonishment. I spent the majority of the play anxious to see what would unfold next, frozen and anticipating the show’s predators, paranormal or otherwise, to strike at me next.
The members of the would-be coven in this story are painted as realistic and grounded people. Each is a person with their own story, trying to do what they believe is the right thing. With a cast of five, each character has rich chemistry with each other and feel like genuine, flawed human beings with complex feelings. Cathy Huang makes for a compelling, complex and terrifying leader of the pack. I found myself mortified at the choices her character made, but not entirely able to blame her for making them. Nathan Redburn’s role as the newest coven member provides much-needed comic relief, as he asks the questions and points out things that the audience are likely thinking. These are people I could run into at the bus stop or the store — although I’m not sure I would want to.
IMP‘s debut is also alarmingly well-timed, given the current mass exodus of predatory, sexually violent people in power within the arts industry, such as Harvey Weinstein and more. The spirit and mood of this play certainly echo the “witch hunts” of today (as in, the witches doing the hunting). However, this play doesn’t stop at platitudes like simple ‘Girl Power’. Much more than the bare minimum is expected of us here — being angry about big, obvious evils like rapists and bigots does not automatically make one the hero, and we are asked, very bluntly, what we should do with that anger.
IMP is a tightly-written, well-rehearsed and brutally honest work of art. If you want to support local artists and original theatre, be part of a dialogue about power dynamics in today’s world, or just get the high holy crap scared out of you, I cannot recommend it enough to take in this show.
- IMP runs November 15 – 26 2017 at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Performances on Tuesday – Saturday at 8PM and Sundays at 2:30PM
- Tickets are $18 for general admission, $15 for students and artsworkers, or $20 at the door.
- Tickets can be purchased online, or at the venue box office the day of performance. Advance purchase is advised due to limited capacity seating.
- Run time: approximately 70 minutes with no intermission
- Audience Advisory: Show contains nudity, violence, and strong language
Photo of Nathan Redburn, Madeline Brown, Cathy Huang, Jason Joule, and Cassidy Furman provided by company.