Review: Blood + Soil (Theatre ARTaud)

Photo of Kayla Jo Farris in Blood and SoilA new play by Rouvan Silogix taking on white supremacy in Canada is now on stage in Toronto

I want to say that Blood + Soil by Theatre ARTaud playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace is one of my favourite plays I’ve seen this year. The mixture of absurdity, pointed commentary, and stellar performances makes for an unforgettable evening. It also makes for a show with intense imagery, uncomfortable truths, and questions of innocence.

The succession of small Quebec town St. Denis from Canada becomes a Greek tragedy-esque parable complete with chorus (hilariously played by Alexandra Watt Simpson and Morgan Johnson).

Scheming Napoleon (Jerry Schaefer) and his politically-savvy wife Snowball (Amaka Umeh) lead the revolution. They recruit Maceath (Sepehr Reybod) and his wife Eurydice (Joella Crichton) to the cause. But their high hopes of a socially-conscious, people-first country doesn’t last long.

It’s exciting to see a show tackling Canadian issues in a Canadian setting, even if it is a creative attempt to rip the ‘nice’ mask off the Canadian identity.

The point is these things are here, in the country. Ivana Popovic’s haunting compositions echo Newfoundland folk music driving home that fact.

Playwright and director Rouvan Silogix divides the story into miniature chapters interspersed with song, movement, chanting, and general chaos.

It works so well. We’re watching the key increments knowing exactly what is happening, but those sections that descend into madness serve to represent actual violence without being voyeuristic.

I think that was important because this show is about white supremacy and the far-right. It makes no bones about it. Characters regularly reference various political leaders, echoing well-known comments such as “there are two sides” without context.

There are so many ways the subject and the imagery could have watered down the point, or worse, become deeply problematic.

For the most part, I feel Silgoix nailed it. And yet, I was very uncomfortable. It’d be unfair for me not to point out that the strong and not at all subtle representations of racial violence depicted in a dance with KKK imagery may be hard for people to watch.

While personally, I thought the show was insightful and aware of the delicacy of its subject, I also acknowledge I can’t say that from everyone’s perspective.

The actors alone, however, would be a reason to see Blood + Soil. There is a huge cast that I don’t have room to acknowledge individually but will definitely have the audience wondering who will take over as their personal favourites.

For me, Umeh was a show stealer as Snowball, the heart of the new country. She makes you sit up and pay attention. I couldn’t have been the only one in the audience watching her shed her character in the final scene, with chills running down my spine.

Crichton was another figure who I enjoyed. Not only was her Eurydice the voice of reason she was also a figure willing to take things into her own hands. I thought Crichton was such a strong presence that I found myself looking for her during townhall scenes.

The only complaint I can think of for this show is that I felt the projections were superfluous and even that isn’t saying they’re bad–just not needed when you’ve got what you’ve got.

What TheatreARTaud has in Blood + Soil is a great show.

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Photo of Kayla Jo Farris courtesy Theatre ARTaud

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