Review: Stones (Aluna Theatre)

Stones is a multi-disciplinary look at a history of violence against women, on stage in Toronto

Stoning is an appalling practice. The cruelty and brutality of it is deliberate; the purpose is not only to kill, but to terrify, torture and humiliate. It is an ancient practice still seen in some parts of the world.

As a response to a long history of violence against women, of which stoning is a particularly horrific exemplification, Aluna Theatre presents Stones—a multi-disciplinary collaboration—to depict the misogyny that fuels that violence. 

Part abstract expression, part testimonial—Stones integrates elements of physical theatre, projected imagery and live musical score to forge a audio-visual tapestry that seeks to portray both the horrific physical realities of lapidation and a sense of the circumstances that lead to and result from it.

Created by Nickeshia Garrick, Roshanak Jaberi, Lilia Leon, Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Anoshinie Muhundarajah, Roula Said and Waleed Abdulhamid (who provides musical accompaniment) and led by director Anita La Selva, Stones offers an abundance of physical and vocal skill. The production is well executed and pulls all the disparate sources together into a fluid and resonant continuum. Contained within are many haunting moments that find a vulnerable spot in your psyche and live there for a while.

Sometimes it is craft that holds the meaningful weight of a moment, other times the potency lies in the content itself. Deeply affecting is the real testimony of those who have witnessed stonings of loved ones. Some of the information presented seems absurd to a mind not accustomed to barbaric practices. 

Stoning occurs as both a form of capital punishment and community justice. I was particularly baffled by the details of Islamic law as it pertains to the specific rules of stoning: the size of the stones, the length of times the process occurs, the attitude of calm required—that the punishment must not be carried out in a way that is unnecessarily violent (?!) 

One of the foremost achievements of this production is the way in which information—news copy, forensics, testimonials—is given warmth and immediacy. Overlapping voices building to a crescendo is a theatrical technique that I’ve seen many times before, but rarely have I seen it so exceptionally well-performed as here: where news stories about recent stonings are related in a breathtaking eruption of cold information made flesh. 

Running the length of the stage and forming a barrier of sorts between the performers and the audience is a trough full of stones. The presence of these stones made me slightly anxious. These stones serve as a constant, tangible reminder of the threat of violence, made all the more immediate by the performers use of them. 

Despite the overall mastery of theatrical elements here, I had difficulty investing fully in this type of presentation—where, instead of an underlying narrative thrust, there’s a central topic that is explored from a very specific perspective. I didn’t feel particularly altered by the experience. I left the theatre with the same feelings about stoning with which I entered.

The horrific and oppressive nature of the practice is effectively dramatized, as is the emotional devastation, but there isn’t any insight into the underlying motivations behind the mistreatment of women nor our reactions to it. Stones is a theatrical expression of discontent that is sincere and fervent yet—for me, anyway—ultimately unchallenging.

Details:

  • Stones is playing until June 10, 2018 at Geary Lane Studios (360 Geary Ave.)
  • Shows run Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm
  • Tickets at $15 to $20
  • Tickets can be purchased online

Photo of the cast by Jeremy Mimnagh.