Theatre Nidana brings a unique take on the concept of free will to Toronto audiences
While not immediately compelling, David Polera’s Life Assignment has a complex and intriguing plot that draws the audience in to deliver a revealing, dialectical perspective on free will and society. Presented by Theatre Nidana as their debut production, Life Assignment is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until June 24.
In order to keep the economy moving, individuals are assigned different jobs, names, religions, and relationships every few years. This is the backbone of the world Life Assignment invites us into – a concept that is captivating to consider, and elaborated upon in thought-provoking and self-reflective ways throughout the 90 minute performance.
Upon entering the theatre, it was immediately noticeable how much care had been put into this show. The set, built by Robert Santoro, was wonderfully, realistically dressed and crafted. From the mismatched furniture to the cleanly painted walls, the set was immersive and felt like a home. That same level of care has been put into the programme, which – without giving it away – is one of the most ingenious programme designs I’ve ever seen.
The show was slow to start, introducing us to Akeena and Wayne (Emily Shelton and Tom Mifflin, respectively), a bickering couple taking care of their home. The real play, and the real intrigue begin when they are interrupted by Hilda (Mercy Cherain), a Life Commissioning Agent who unexpectedly delivers new life assignments to the couple. Until about the middle of the show, much of the acting felt forced or inorganic, which detracted from the appeal of the plot.
Thankfully this did not persist, and I was fully invested for the last half of the performance. In particular, as Akeena and Hilda’s feelings rage against each other in an intense and climactic argument, the tension in the room was palpable, and I was on the edge of my seat. In another scene, the ensemble goes into a psychedelic-like trance, and Brian Webber, as Roohan, shows off his range of dialects and vocal talent, commanding the whole room from in the audience. The intelligent, humorous script paired with these highlights carried the show forward, making up for the earlier lack of believability.
I took issue with the script more than a few times while watching. The amount of jargon and pseudo-futuristic terms that go unexplained in the show are frustrating. “S&F” and “TNC” were two terms I couldn’t find the meaning for, despite being used repeatedly over the course of the show. As well, Wayne and Akeena take a survey together early in the show, and Wayne already seems to know what the questions on the survey are, despite never having seen it before. These were minor annoyances, but they were consistent over the course of the show.
Ultimately, Life Assignment is an intelligent, well-structured show about a fascinating concept. Carried more so by a clever script and interesting plot than a talented cast, I believe any sci-fi fan would enjoy this provocative and insightful show.
- Life Assignment is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) through June 24, 2018.
- Shows run 7:30 pm on June 23, and 2:00 pm on June 24.
- Tickets are $20.
- Tickets can be purchased online, via phone at 416-504-7529 or directly from the Passe Muraille box office.
Photo of Mercy Cherain, Tom Mifflin, & Emily Shelton provided by company.