Review: Forgiveness: a theatrical poem (Modern Times Stage Company)

Poetry meets theatre in Forgiveness playing in Toronto at the Great Hall’s Black Box Theatre

Forgiveness: a theatrical poem is playing at the Black Box Theatre and the show opens with a microphone on a cord being lowered to a tape player resting on a chair. Recorded voices talk about forgiveness and their take on it. The first scene erupts in violence, chaos and movement before we land again in the presence of a couple at odds with each other. Forgiveness is  a series of scenes dealing with the titular theme and that theme is explored in romantic and familial relationships, between strangers, in empty political apologies, in war crimes, and with the self.

There are some grave moments. Among the most notable is performer Andrea Nann’s beautiful and haunting dance solo. In this particular scene, Nann plays an American journalist who discovers her family’s complicity in the Khmer Rouge genocide. Just as soon as the performance carries us off to dark places, there are as many moments of humour to pull us back. Most often, but not exclusively, these moments of relief are provided by performer and writer Peter Farbridge, whose stage persona floods the spotlight with his existential angst. The other players serve as foils to deflate his ego and curtail his verbosity.

Forgiveness boasts a strong ensemble cast, but it is the sixth star, the lighting/set/sound partnership that deserves heaps of accolades.

Michelle Ramsay’s lighting design is distinctive and brilliant. Clean, square spots are used to focus our attention on the finer details. Blues and reds create a dance hall; dull, flickering whites simulate a moving train; and white walls and a red floor land us in the middle of a war zone emergency room.

Lindsay Anne Black’s set design is understated and intelligent. Five chairs are moved around from scene to scene. Five microphones are suspended on cords from above and are lowered and raised according to function. An antiquated cassette player figures largely throughout.

Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design is complex and affective. Recorded voices are layered and overlapped. Repetition contributes to feelings of relentless preoccupation associated with the theme. The sound design adds dimension to the physical space whether it s a train tunnel, a remote village in Southeast Asia or the individual’s inner landscape.

Accompanying the performance is a photo exhibition called ‘The F Word: Stories of Forgiveness’, courtesy of The Forgiveness Project. These are powerful first-hand accounts from people who have experienced unfathomable tragedy and who are learning to forgive. I recommend reading these before and after attending the performance.

Forgiveness inspired a conversation between me and my showmate, Adam, about the quality of forgiveness and places in our lives where we could use or offer it. The show is provocative without being prescriptive, esoteric yet accessible and it cleaves a space large enough for its audience to assign its own meaning.


  • Forgiveness: a theatrical poem is playing at the Black Box Theatre (1087 Queen Street West)
  • Performances run February 20 – March 1, 7.30PM; Saturday and Sunday Matinées, 2PM, Student Matinée, February 26, 2PM
  • Tickets are $10-$35 and can be purchased online or in person (CASH ONLY)

Photo of Stavroula Logothettis, Andrea Nann, Jannik Elkaer, Kristoffer Louis Andrup Pedersen and Peter Farbridge by Zahra Saleki