Georgia Beaty, Lindsey Angell.  Photo: Tim Matheson

Lindsey Angell, Munish Sharma, Georgia Beaty.  Photo: Tim Matheson

Dirt Road / Iceland Equity Co-op 
by Nicolas Billon

Dates and Venue 24 April - 3 May, 2014, Tues - Sat 8:00 pm | Studio 16, 555 W. 7th Avenue, Vancouver

Director Kathleen Duborg Sound design/Original composition Daniel Tessy Set Design Chris McGregor Lighting Design John Webber Costume Design Trena Hollands Stage Manager Jenny Kim

Reviewer  Elizabeth Paterson

Matthew Billon's Iceland offers four striking monologues from three disparate characters brought together by location.  The location is not Iceland itself, which we are clearly prompted to understand as a metaphor, but an eminently flippable apartment.  This play was originally performed at the Toronto’s Summerworks Festival and Factory Theatre and set in Toronto, but makes a smooth transition to Vancouver by changing a few local references, such is the state of the real estate market in this country.  Yet despite being the nexus which links all the characters, the apartment itself is largely invisible in Chris McGregor’s spare set.  The backdrop, a waterfall of blue light, reminds the audience of Iceland, but otherwise the stage is bare with only a chesterfield and 2 chairs, chiefly used by the actors who are not speaking.  Kathleen Duborg’s spare direction focuses intently on each character.  Who is this person? why is this person here? who are the others? become questions of absorbing interest.  This clean and uncluttered direction, despite an appalling and dramatic turn in the plot, allows no histrionic distraction from the inexorable conclusion.

The first monologue comes from Kassandra (Lindsey Angell), a foreign graduate student in History whose twin brotherís gambling has plunged her family into the hands of the Estonian mafia. Desperate for extra cash to send home while not jeopardising time for her studies she turns to prostitution. We learn something about her history professor mother, about life under Russian occupation, and about her life as a hooker, which is not so bad she canít endure it while she must. Lindsay Angell portrays a clearly intelligent young woman of charm, warmth and deadpan humour. In describing the ties which bind her to her family and the facts which brought her to this moment, she gradually offers layers of vulnerability, naÔvetť, courage and disaster.

Halim (Munish Sharma) is a complete contrast.  Brash, selfish, uncaring and obsessed with sex, cash and flash he has few layers of complexity to shed.  From his monologue we learn he is the real estate agent engaged in selling the apartment to his maximum advantage. The previous owner having been forced to sell quickly as a consequence of the failure of Iceland’s banking system, Halim’s view is that he was a useless business man and that the previous renter was foolish not to have organized her life to accommodate the going market rate.  He tells us all this with the garrulous bonhomie of a man at a bar.  Unlike Kassandra, he tells us little of his background except to relate how profoundly a motivational speaker had influenced him in forming his opinions.  This Munish Sharma portrays with vivid body-language and a strong American drawl.  Unpleasant as Halim is, Munish Sharma gives him an attractive enthusiasm for his way of life.

All three actors are first-class. Each has created a thoroughly believable character and delivered an intense and gripping story. But it is in the economy of detail where their art lies concealed. Georgia Beatyís open face and gentle gestures expose both Annaís simplicity and her utter lack of empathy, Munish Sharma shows two distinct versions of the same personality in Halim and his guru, and in Lindsey Angellís controlled gestures and precision of lightly-accented English reside a general picture of a foreign student and a close-up of Kassandraís self-restraint.

The technical side supported the production well.  Trena Hollands' costumes were well-chosen.  Daniel Tessy's music and sound indicated the mood.  John Webber’s lighting enhanced everything on stage.

© 2014 Elizabeth Paterson