“with actors as charming and accomplished as this pair, it is no great effort to spend sixty minutes in their company”
The Luncheon promises us “a surreal two-hander which explores space, time and matter over the course of one lunch.” Performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre in the Actors Centre, Kace Monney and Luis Amália play with our theatrical concepts of space and time by performing a show that is full of unpredictable events. Furthermore, every performance of The Luncheon is always changing and never the same. It’s a clever idea that draws us in, but, depending on which performance we actually get to see, may leave us feeling that the lunch was a trifle insubstantial. To be fair, there are many theatregoers who delight in such randomness, and the audience appeared to be well fed on the bill of fare presented on this particular evening.
The Luncheon began promisingly with a table loaded with food and drink and a nod to playwrights Gertrude Stein and Shakespeare, among others. Monney and Amália gave fair warning that what followed would be non-linear, and that was certainly an accurate description. And with actors as charming and accomplished as this pair, it is no great effort to spend sixty minutes in their company while they put on a virtuoso display of self-referential acting exercises, punctuated by episodes of manic eating and drinking. There is also a lot to admire in the physicality of their acting, although the studio space at the Actors Centre was perhaps a bit too small to contain such energy. The show on this particular day was well calculated to appeal to an audience of actors, and there seemed to be several present who were enjoying all the acting jokes.
Ultimately, My Dinner With André this is not. Or at least, it wasn’t on this night, and theatregoers present may have left feeling a bit disappointed. But in another time and in another space, Monney and Amália’s idea for The Luncheon gives every audience the hope that one day they could enjoy a meal packed full of food choices much more to their taste.
“a reminder yet again of the power of theatre to bring into the light, things that would rather hide in darkness”
Matthew Gouldesbrough’s play Holy Land is a grim and disturbing look at the dark web. For audience members unaware of the dark web, it is the part of the internet not indexed by search engines. Those who post and access material on it, do so anonymously. Holy Land begins with a character describing the ease with which he can buy a gun on the dark web, no questions asked. In the space of eighty minutes, we find that the purchase of the gun is really just the final purchase in a long line of chilling acquisitions that include videos of pornography, including pornography with violence.
Harrowing stuff indeed. Nevertheless, Holy Land is an inventive script that tells its story by putting together three characters who address the audience in a series of monologues. We eventually come to understand that they all have a shared past which involves encounters with predators on and offline. Rick Romero as Jon, gives an intense, athletic performance as a bewildered father trying to hold his family together against a predatory local church. Gouldesbrough, in addition to writing the script, is the young computer nerd Tim, lured into situations of increasing horror as he tries to avoid a psychopath he first encountered in school. Hannah Morrison gives an all too believable performance as Kate, a teenager with chronic and ultimately fatal self-esteem issues, who is groomed in all sorts of online nastiness. In the ironically titled Holy Land, Gouldesbrough has created a modern morality tale where there are no winners, and no comfort for the survivors, either.
Holy Land is an economical show that focuses on the actors, with a bare boards set. But because it’s a play about the internet, the actors are also always on stage with screens. This is not an entirely successful device. Meant as a counterpoint to descriptions of videos online, the images are often presented as grainy and indistinct, but the overall effect can be distracting. Even when used to present a kind of livestream action at the end of the play, to underpin the “this is happening now in front of you” theme of the videos being presented online, the use of screens in this way comes across as a gimmick rather than illuminating. In any event, the actors have all the words they need to tell this tragic story.
Holy Land is not a play for family audiences, and there will be theatre goers who find this play challenging to sit through. Nevertheless Elegy Theatre Company deserves credit for bringing such a difficult subject to the stage. It’s a reminder yet again of the power of theatre to bring into the light, things that would rather hide in darkness.