Money talks

Pen­e­trat­ing di­a­logue, aus­tere set zero in on cap­i­tal­ism’s preda­tory win­ners, wretched losers

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - RAN­DALL KING ran­dall.king@freep­ress.mb.ca

BE­FIT­TING a play set against a back­drop of the 2008 global financial col­lapse, Theatre Projects Man­i­toba’s sea­son-opener Ice­land is a work of star­tling econ­omy.

Nicolas Bil­lon’s drama is just 70 min­utes long, with­out in­ter­mis­sion. The in­ge­nious set, de­signed by Linda Beech, con­sists of three chairs on an up­wardly-tilted raked plat­form, with a cor­re­spond­ingly down­ward-tilted ceil­ing, cre­at­ing an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion of depth. It’s a de­sign that aug­ments the qual­i­ties of dis­tor­tion and dom­i­nance among the three char­ac­ters on the stage.

Kas­san­dra (Laura Olaf­son) is an Es­to­nian grad stu­dent work­ing to­ward her am­bi­tion of be­com­ing a his­tory pro­fes­sor, like her mother. But trou­ble at home com­pels her to make ex­tra money while earn­ing her doc­tor­ate. She sees her only op­tion is to take work as an es­cort.

Halim (Omar Alex Khan) is a Pak­istani-Cana­dian who has em­braced the ide­ol­ogy of “cap­i­tal-C Cap­i­tal­ism,” play­ing fast and loose in the realm of Toronto real es­tate.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est is his “flip­ping” of a con­do­minium prop­erty he pur­chased from an over-lever­aged Amer­i­can in a de­vel­op­ment called Lib­erty Vil­lage, which Halim refers to as a de­vel­oper’s in­side joke in hon­our of yup­pies who need to ob­tain a 25-year­mort­gage to avail them­selves of such a prop­erty.

Fi­nally, there is Anna (Heather Rus­sell), an un­bal­anced young woman of ru­ral up­bring­ing, seething with anger at hav­ing been evicted from her apart- ment when the prop­erty was pur­chased from un­der her.

The three char­ac­ters do have some fate­ful in­ter­ac­tions, but as writ­ten by Bil­lon, their sto­ries are pri­mar­ily told in al­ter­nat­ing mono­logues. In a weirdly fair-minded way, each of the char­ac­ters gets a hear­ing, even if we are re­pelled by Halim’s coldly vo­ra­cious greed or un­nerved by Anna’s creepy child­hood story of a dy­ing guinea pig and a scold­ing mother whom she de­scribes as “a blunt in­stru­ment.”

The ti­tle refers the coun­try where the financial domi­noes top­pled first in the 2008 eco­nomic col­lapse. For Halim, the ruin presents just an­other op­por­tu­nity to be glee­fully grabbed. For Kas­san­dra, it means sub­ject­ing her­self to ex­ploita­tion. For Anna, it feeds a de­struc­tive rage.

Ice­land is an im­pres­sive, com­pelling piece of theatre pre­sent­ing the im­pact of cap­i­tal­ism on its char­ac­ters. Its mono­logue for­mat em­pha­sizes the dis­con­nect it cre­ates, touch­ing on race and lan­guage. (Halim thinks Cas­san­dra is Rus­sian; Kas­san­dra thinks Halim is In­dian. Both are of­fended.)

But its story — yes, it has a story — plots the hu­man con­nec­tions that si­mul­ta­ne­ously play out in in­ti­mate set­tings and global ones.

Di­rec­tor Ardith Box­all keeps the ac­tion tight and in­tense, and the per­for­mances evenly bal­anced.

Even so, Khan tends to stand out as the most con­fronta­tional char­ac­ter, chid­ing the au­di­ence in his tirades against “pro­gres­sives” and scold­ing them when they don’t laugh at his jokes.

LEIF NOR­MAN

From left, Heather Rus­sell, Laura Olaf­son and Omar Alex Khan deal with the ef­fects of 2008’s eco­nomic col­lapse in Ice­land.

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