Dark Locks (SNAP Productions) 2012 SummerWorks Review

Dark Locks press photoDark Locks (running at the SummerWorks Festival) is a ripped-from-the-headlines take on the Shafia family murders, but–like a lake–it runs much deeper than we may assume. This isn’t shock theatre or exploitation, this is an earnest attempt to explore a uniquely Canadian tragedy through a uniquely Canadian lens.

All three actors are more than equal to the task. Gord Rand’s hip-yet-detached history teacher is affable yet distant: besotted with his subject and determined to help his students, but unsure of how.  Newcomer Ashley Jagga makes wonderful work of the daughter torn between two worlds, neither of which are truly accepting of her.

Most successful, however, is Arsinee Khanjian’s take on the mother: it would be very easy to turn her into either a grotesque monster or a limp accomplice to her husband, but Khanjian’s character is neither. Mother is terrified, yet strong; paranoid, yet secure; and above all, we genuinely believe that she loves and wants the best for her daughter, even as she prepares to drown her.

The writing is clever, successfully drawing parallels between disparate subjects. The parallels between colonial history and the experiences of first-generation Canadians are not obvious, but writer Richard Sanger draws some unexpected comparisons which nevertheless ring true. Also notable are Mary Francis Moore’s directorial choices: the staging is simple, but extremely effective, and great pains have obviously been taken to ensure that every gesture and movement advances the plot. Nothing is extraneous or superfluous, and everything is compelling. Once it starts, you simply cannot look away.

My companion raised an interesting point, which I think bears repeating. One of the biggest problems with Canadian history is that we tend to view it as a progression towards a goal: the aboriginals were civilized by the settlers; the wilds were tamed by the pioneers; every step towards a European idea of modernity is deemed a good thing by default.

She felt that this play may fall into a similar trap. The morality can veer towards the black-and-white, with Canadian culture presented uncritically while other cultures are ignored or even jeered at. It is treated as obvious that the daughter is improving her life by “Canadianizing”, while the mother is sometimes presented as an ignorant simpleton for resisting or seeking to reverse it.

With this in mind, the play may not be especially interesting to those who have firsthand experience of these situations and individuals: the treatment is likely too blunt to say anything insightful to this community.

However, to those of us who are outsiders, this is still a valuable and worthwhile window which (more or less) accurately answers several different questions. Why would a woman kill her own daughter? What is it really like to navigate a new identity in a new country? And what must we understand about families like the Shafias if we are to prevent these tragedies from recurring?

Thought-provoking, compelling theatre with an excellent cast. Don’t miss it.

Runtime: ~50 minutes.


  • Dark Locks plays at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100 Ossington Avenue. (On Ossington between Dundas and Queen.)
  • Performance dates include: Sun. the 12th at 2:30 PM; Tue. the 14th at 5:00 PM; Thurs. the 16th at 7:30 PM; Sat. the 18th at 2:30 PM; Sun. the 19th at 7:30 PM.
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.