Out the Window explores a first hand account of local police brutality, on stage in Toronto
There were a couple of things that intrigued me about Out the Window, playing as part of the Luminato Fesival in partnership with The Theatre Centre, playing at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. One is that it tackles the controversial topic of police violence, and another is that it refers to an incident that occurred locally in Toronto. The Political Science major in me wanted to know more details of what has since become political.
The story of what happened is literally seen through the eyes of playwright Liza Balkan, who came forward as a witness to the death of Otto Vass at the hands of the Toronto police, and relates her experience of the justice system.
While there is some verbatim text taken directly from transcripts and interviews, Out the Window presents the story creatively, and gives the story life and humanity. Out of the ugly incident comes the beauty that is Out the Window.
The subject matter of police violence is difficult but handled well. The portrayal of the beating death of Otto Vass shows nothing overly explicit, but it is understood that great violence has happened, thanks to the Fight Choreographer Richard Lee.
Though there was clearly a struggle between Voss and the police, how did it start? That is an important question, which this play explores.
The set space is white, blank and empty, save for performer Syrus Marcus Ware, visual artist and activist, in the middle of the stage, sketching on the floor. Her sketches are later posted, giving faces to the police violence victims.
The use of the set space is stunning. The emptiness is filled with the fantastic projections by Montgomery C Martin, and the lighting designs of Frank Donato. Through projections and lights, the empty stage is the scene of a crime, a courtroom and a restaurant. The whole theatre is utilized, even vertically, to great effect.
Sara Kitz gives a passionate performance as Liza, who tries to do the right thing, and David Ferry and RH Thomson play two lawyers whose legal sparring make the legal tangle of facts accessible and at times funny.
While the police violence is happening, the loudness of sirens, and the flashing red, white and blue lights of police cars are simulated, and helps the audience understand how bearing witness to something under those conditions can lead to confusion and heightened drama.
The play changes gears after the intermission. The first part of the play gets you thinking about what happened and asking yourself why someone who actually witnessed something can end up questioning themselves.
The second part asks you to consider taking action. The play characters have their say. Audience participation is encouraged, as the actors invite you into their close on-stage community.
When the actors are on stage answering questions or giving opinions, they are projected on the screen so they can be seen better. Unfortunately, the sound was slightly out of sync with the picture, which was distracting, but not a disaster. This is live theatre after all.
My friend Patti and I both noticed the importance of time and timing. There is a scene at a restaurant where Liza is doing interviews as part of gathering information for this play. There is no food shown in the scene, yet I think it is one of the most realistic scenes of eating that I have ever seen. The scene is not just people sitting at a table being interviewed. Liza’s tape recorder is put to great use, by forwarding the action and taking out “filler” dialogue and actions, so there is never a dull moment.
The pace of this play is fast, and many scenes were very choreographed, with precise movements. It was much like a dance performance, and enjoyable to watch. In a question and opinion scene, actors are kept strictly to an allotted time that is very specific.
I am privileged. I am not a person of colour, and I have not suffered severe mental illness, or police violence but I learned how injustice can happen and feel empathy for the injustice others face, and I hope that plays like Out the Window put a human face on the injustice that happens even here in Toronto, and brings about some healing.
- Out the Window is playing at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West) until June 24 2018.
- Performances are at 7:00 pm nightly with weekend matinees at 2:00 pm. ASL Performance on June 22, at 7:00 pm
- Tickets are $39 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-368-4849.
- Audience Advisory: This performance contains loud noises, flashing lights, mature themes, and police violence. Viewer discretion is advised. Audience participation is encouraged.
- There will be a post show talk following the evening performance on June 23.
Promotional illustration by Syrus Marcus Ware entitled Same As It Ever Was