The year is 1969 — Apollo 11 is about to land on the moon leading to Neil Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind. The Vietnam war rages on, the Black Panther movement is on the rise, Trudeau (Sr.) is in office, and in Toronto , Rochdale College, an experiment in co-op housing and alternative education, is on the brink of collapse. Playing at this year’s SummerWorks Festival, written by David Yee and directed by Nina Aquino, the graduating class of York University’s Theatre Department is prepared to take you on a journey of Rochdale‘s wild side.
It’s been two months, long enough for the tenants at Rochdale College to determine that general manager Whitman (Leanne Hoffman) has died and have begun to piece together a life without her presence when she suddenly returns. Hoping to pick up where she left off, Whitman is shocked to find that life at Rochdale has fallen into disarray in her absence — vagrants have migrated in, and the regular tenants are looking to dissolve the governing board she worked for years to build and maintain. As she contemplates leaving everything behind once again, in walks Friar (Dustin Hickey), an American army deserter shamed for his sexuality and in need of a place to stay.
I brought my friend Kira to see this performance with me and interestingly enough, what worked quite well for me felt disjointed and cacophonous for her. “It’s messing with my ADHD,” she said in regards to the layout of the set — the main office, the temperamental elevator, the personal rooms, and the main meeting room are all on stage collectively with cast members occupying various spaces at the same time. The lighting shifts slightly and new characters begin speaking to indicate where the audience should focus. To me, this felt lively and lived in and a great use of stage space but for Kira it was confusing, and at times some of the dialogue sounded muted so when a line was said loudly, “Hitler was a vegetarian!”, it wasn’t clear to her what lead up to it.
I found that there were times where heated and stressed conversations seemed delivered on the same high-strung note without much variance and I think more nuance and breath could be found if the cast had more time to play within the dialogue. That being said, the character of Athena (Claudia Hamilton) stood out to me as being quite cool, collected, and above all else empowered in her scenes, especially when facing down a man with a gun.
I really enjoyed Rochdale. It’s clear that this class of graduates, along with Yee and Aquino, have poured their heart and soul into this production and it definitely is worth experiencing.
Thursday August 8th 9:00 pm – 10:20 pm
Friday August 9th 6:30 pm – 7:50 pm
Sunday August 11th 8:45 pm – 10:05 pm
Saturday August 17th 3:30 pm – 4:50 pm
Sunday August 18th 6:30 pm – 7:50 pm