By Mira Saraf
I arrived there armed only with the knowledge that the play had something to do with a petulant sixteen year-old child who needs to discover the secret behind her mother’s strange illness. My show partner, Barry, knew even less.
We were both unprepared for the level of intrigue that drew us in – a web of family secrets spanning four generations, various historical eras and dark twisted minds that planned dark twisted deeds. The show was longer than I was used to at three hours long, but it felt more like an hour and a half. Not once were we bored.
It starts with Aimee (Jan Alexandra Smith) who’s pregnant, but discovers a mysterious tumour in her brain. Contrary to the medical advice given to her, she decides to go ahead and have Loup (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), before finally passing away when her daughter is 16.
Loup the angry teenager with the help of a friendly paleontologist digs deeper into her mother’s and family’s past to unlock the mystery of her heritage. Themes of abandonment, of sibling cannibalization, incest and violence are strung throughout the storylines.
Most of the actors are returning performers to the Tarragon stage. They each brought tremendous energy to the show, which truly made their characters come to life. It was especially impressive in this show, as most of the actors doubled up on roles, yet managed to create believable people in each individual part.
The best part of this show was in its execution. Flashbacks, scenes that crossed time, an evil pit full of horror – all were portrayed expertly without much need for suspension of disbelief. Lighting, sound effects and costume were woven together into an intricate creation that crossed centuries and story lines with ease and grace.
They didn’t use any particularly technical means to create these effects – it was more the attention to detail, and the creative use of otherwise standard tools that made the audience feel as though we were at the movies, or better yet, traveling alongside the characters. It helped us feel, empathize and care for them.
The total effect was creepy and frightening at times, heartwarming and even humorous at others. It is definitely not a family friendly performance: violence, nudity and – as the theatre warned – herbal cigarettes, all make appearances in this show.
For all its darkness, and all its strangeness, the overall effect wasn’t overwhelmingly heavy. As we left the theatre, the walk home involved pockets of silence and small talk peppered between one of the two of us inevitably returning to one topic: how fantastic the show was.
It was my first Tarragon theatre show. But it definitely won’t be my last.
– Forests is playing at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until May 29.
– Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm
– Ticket prices range from $37 – $46, seniors from $32-39, students & art workers from $22-39. Rush tickets are $10, available for Friday performances (starting at 6pm) and Sunday performances (starting at 1pm)
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-531-1827
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann