A Million Billion Pieces captures the intensity of young love in a complex world
Young People’s Theatre presents the world premiere of A Million Billion Pieces, written by David James Brock and directed by Philip Akin. The play explores the intensity of teenage love, with the added stakes of a rare, terminal disease.
A Million Billion Pieces revolves around two teenagers, Pria (Kate Martin) and Theo (Aldrin Bundoc), who both suffer from the same terminal genetic condition. In the universe that this play takes place in, there’s a prevailing belief that two people with the same condition can’t come into contact with each other lest they explode into “a million billion pieces.”
After chatting online for months — through their aliases PriaSoprano (Jonelle Sills) and Eagle19 (Simon Gagnon) — they decide to meet at a motel to have sex. They agree to do so with the understanding that their encounter may be fatal. Over the course of an hour, the two confront the nature of their relationship and their own mortality.
I feel that this show uniquely captures the intensity and anticipation of teenage relationships. I can’t relate to the characters’ health-related circumstances, but Brock’s script (through Pria and Theo’s dialogue) reminds me of my own perceptions of love and sex at that age. I remember how much stock I put into physical intimacy, which were ultimately desires for safety, connection, and feeling understood.
Pria and Theo desire autonomy and freedom despite their overly protective parents, a feeling I knew all too well growing up. Furthermore, coming of age in the nascent days of social media, I’m also quite familiar with what it’s like to create an exaggerated online persona as a way to feel empowered.
All this is to say that I think this show is effective in capturing an extraordinary moment in the context of common teenage desires. I’m well past my teen years, but there are many things I can still relate to. I believe, however, this play would have resonated so much more strongly with me had I seen it as a teenager.
Under Akin’s simple, intimate direction, Bundoc and Martin bring Theo and Pria to life with their undeniable chemistry. In an audience talk-back after the show, Martin noted that Akin instructed the actors not to “youthify” their voices, and instead focus on their physicality and emotional vulnerability. This was great direction. I could feel that these characters were energized yet vulnerable teenagers without them having to resort to (literally) putting on an act.
I also appreciated Sills and Gagnon’s performances as Pria and Theo’s avatars. I think they struck the right balance between playing larger-than-life personas while bolstering Martin and Bundoc. While Gagnon was a calm, grounding presence throughout the show, it was impossible to take my eyes off Sills when she was featured. All together, I believe all four actors were a great ensemble.
Finally, I believe the design should be recognized. Of special note is Daniel Oulton’s projections, which evoked for me the cluttered feeling of having too many tabs open on my browser. I also felt like Rachel Forbes’ set and costume design is simple and effective, blending real life with the astronomical.
The run for A Million Billion Pieces has ended, but if it’s remounted in the future, I would recommend watching it — particularly with a teenager in your life.
- A Million Billion Pieces is playing until December 13, 2019 at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East)
- Shows run Tuesday to Thursday, and Friday December 13th at 10:30am and 1:15pm, open only to schools and student groups.
- Matinees run at 2pm Saturday and Sunday and are open to the general public
- Ticket prices range from $12-16 for student groups and PWYC on Sunday December 1
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-862-2222, or in person at the box office
Photo of Aldrin Buldoc and Kate Martin by Dahlia Katz