Penetrating dialogue, austere set zero in on capitalism’s predatory winners, wretched losers
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.
From left, Heather Russell, Laura Olafson and Omar Alex Khan deal with the effects of 2008’s economic collapse in Iceland.