Acting takes centre stage in this many-charactered play
The Ends of the Earth – playing at Alumnae Theatre – is a bold choice for Don’t Look Down Theatre Company’s first on-stage production of 2019. Written by Morris Panych and first produced in 1992, it’s a Canadian play that isn’t particularly Canadian. The setting isn’t specified; it could be anywhere with a coastline. This production is set in the present, but it could as easily be set in the early 1990s when it was first produced, or in the 1950s or even the 1920s.
There are a couple of things that date the play. It’s two hours long, 2 hours and 15 minutes with an intermission. In this day of 60 to 90 minutes plays and short attention spans (mine included), that’s a long play. There are 20 characters with lines in the play; 20! That’s a lot of characters.
Five actors take on all 20 characters wonderfully: Daniel Entz as Frank; Ryan Kotack as Walker/Reggie; Mona Hillis as Alice, June, Mona and Mag; Lindsey Middleton as Willy, Millie, Astrid, and Libby; and Gordon Harper as Finn, Clayton, Jack, Lawrence, Homeowner, Sergio, Eduardo, Lewis and Ferryman.
Frank has dedicated his life to being unremarkable. Walker has been paranoid since being struck by lightning when he was three. Each thinks the other is after him and in fleeing, they end up following each other, crossing paths until they find themselves in a rundown hotel operated by deaf Willy and blind Alice.
Director Cedric Martin makes excellent use of the space upstairs at Alumnae. The stage is fairly bare. There’s a staircase leading up on the left side. On the right side, there’s a desk and chair that also serves as a table and chairs. At the back on the left, there’s a small nook that serves as an interrogation room and on the right, a door. In between them, there’s a park bench. A table and as many as three chairs are moved in as needed.
I really liked the way that Martin has the action moving around the stage and the way he uses the whole stage. The scenes between Frank and his girlfriend Astrid take place on the park bench at the back of the stage. The scenes between Frank and Finn, his boss, are at the desk on the right side of the stage. There are a couple of times when the stage is empty. It’s very effective.
The performances are terrific. It always impresses the hell out of me to see so much young talent on the stage. It really does bode well for the future of theatre. The Ends of the Earth isn’t a play that needs young actors. Most of the characters are older or ageless but having young actors in the roles was just fine.
Entz imbues Frank with the carping anxiety of someone who doesn’t want to stand out but just can’t let go of an idea once it’s in his mind and ends up standing out anyway. He’s so good in the bus terminal restaurant scene, complaining about everything; the size of the table, the size of the menu, the speed of the server’s response time, and then asking her to be quiet because everyone is paying attention to them.
Hillis is brilliant as the server in the same scene, taking no crap from anyone.
Walker is already paranoid, and Kotak plays him as someone with the potential to become a homicidal maniac. When he faces the audience, telling us his story, his face is almost expressionless but his head is twitchy. His voice is full of suppressed anger. I kept waiting for him to blow. In the jail scene, he lists things that could be happening and gets angrier with each thing until he’s almost yelling. When Frank assures him that the final thing on the list isn’t happening, he relaxes immediately.
In terms of versatility and quick costume changes, Gordon Harper wins. He plays nine characters. Really, really well. It isn’t until about half-way through that I realize that all the males who aren’t Frank or Walker have to be Harper.
The two wonderfully bizarre characters, Willy and Alice, run the hotel. Most of the second act is set in the hotel, and we get to see a lot of Willy and Alice. Much of it is surreal and funny. The two exhausted men and Alice playing cards with coasters because Willy wanted to play cards in the middle of the night was absurdly funny.
Middleton’s Willy is a joy. The physicality of her acting is remarkable. Bent at the waist, deaf, she shuffles around fulfilling requests she thinks she hears. She carries laden tea trays, goes back and forth to the kitchen for things she’s forgotten. When she isn’t talking to anyone she makes little squeaky sounds. Lovely.
Hillis’s Alice, on the other hand, is quietly terrifying. She’s blind, unsmiling, and she hates visitors. She greets Frank with a pair of hedge clippers in her hands. She speaks in a low voice and has a lovely English accent. I loved the way she told Frank about arriving as a guest years before and not being able to leave.
There were so many scenes in the play that I really loved. The scenes that I didn’t really love were key to the play, Frank and Walker’s monologues. They’re a necessary part of the play, but Entz and Kotack each stand in place to deliver them and both monologues, Entz’s particularly, seemed long. As much as anything I think this is a change in my expectations of theatre between 1992 and now. I didn’t dislike them. I just didn’t enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the rest of the play. Nothing to do with the actors, more to do with me and Panych.
The Ends of the Earth is quite funny and the acting is brilliant. It’s worth seeing.
- The Ends of the Earth is playing until September 1 at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St)
- Performances: August 24, 28*, 29, 30, 31 @7:30; August 24, 25, 31 and September 1 @2:00, *relaxed performance
- Tickets are $25, $20 for students and Arts workers
- Tickets are available online and at the box office before the performance
Photo of Daniel Entz provided by the company