One of the Hottest Shows of the Festival: Go See Iceland

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kawa ada in iceland

Sleek, sophisticated, gritty, intellectually gripping and meticulous are all words that spring immediately to mind when reflecting on Why Not Theatre’s Production of Nicolas Billon’s play Iceland, which plays as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Halifax until June 28, 2014.

We are all connected far more closely than we realize and no part of the World, no matter how remote, is truly an isolated island- not even Iceland. In this play Billon explores with depth, nuance and intelligence the consequences of three privately owned commercial banks collapsing in Iceland on three people living in Toronto in 2008. Director Ravi Jain keeps the stage very dark, with three chairs isolated in tightly controlled light, and the three actors take turns rotating between them, each sharing his or her perspective on the same event- a death and fire in a hotel room.

First we have Kassandra, a University of Toronto student from Estonia who works as an escort in order to pay her bills and send some money home to her mother and her twin brother who is engulfed in gambling debts. Christine Horne portrays Kassandra as a practical, frank, yet sensual woman, whose desperation to make her life and the life of her family better pushes her to the extreme of her personality and ambition. Horne infuses Kassandra with a pragmatic strength of character, while also giving her beautifully human vulnerability.

Kawa Ada plays Kassandra’s client Halim, an arrogant, yet very successful, real estate agent who sees the banking crisis in Iceland as an opportunity to make a fortune, as Capitalism allows him to, despite the fact that he has to evict the tenants of his newest building in Liberty Village in order to flip it for a considerable profit. Ada swathes Halim with sleaziness and pontificates about the stupidity and hypocrisy of Liberals and their Socialist morals and ideals, which in his view only holds them back from financial gain and makes them victims. He brims with shameless political incorrectness and misogyny but gleefully doesn’t give a fat flying fuck about trampling over anyone’s feelings or any impact he may have on anyone else’s life beyond his own. Ada gives an incredible three dimensional performance infusing Halim with perfect physicality and a seedy, yet volatile, relationship with the audience. I found that I was giddy in how much I enjoyed watching Ada and in how much I loved loathing Halim.

Claire Calnan’s Anna is a sheltered, strict Christian who literally washes her mouth with soap when she blasphemes. She is from a rural Ontarian farm where her upbringing was filled with shame and admonishment. She found happiness for two years in her home in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood and was devastated and left forlorn and a little unhinged when it was sold to Halim during the Icelandic banking crisis and she was evicted. She returns to her old home to confront Halim about his moral digressions and he is in the throes of passions with Kassandra when she knocks on his door. Calnan brings a startling emotionally fragility to Anna, who has also been pushed to her own personal extreme, which gives her a complex mixture of piety and anger, hurt and guilt, innocence and prejudice and a desire to do the right thing, but the capacity to do the worst thing.

All three characters are flawed and Billon is not offering us any solutions (easy or otherwise), but he presents a portrait of stark, cold reality with such clarity, yet full of contradiction and insight, that it is a fantastic launching pad for further thought and conversation.

Thus, Iceland has brought these three unlikely strangers together in a story about the perils of Capitalism, how we use it and abuse it, how it rewards us and ravages us, and how, despite our Socialist leniency as Canadians, we are still all fundamentally entwined in a complicated and International web of free markets, greed, consumerism and the desire to make a profit, often at any cost. The result is absolutely riveting theatre.

Iceland plays at the Alderney Landing Theatre (2 Ochterloney Street) at 4pm and 8pm this evening, Saturday June 28th as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

Tickets for all shows are available at TicketPro either by phone (1-888-311-9090) at TicketPro outlets in Halifax, at the show’s venue prior to the performance or online at this address.  

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