Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century (Live Lobster Theatre) 2016 SummerWorks Review

Trompe la mortI like plays with ideas; they give my mind something to grapple with in the darkness of a theatre. While I like to think, when I’m at the theatre, I prefer to feel. I find it difficult to invest in characters and situations that are, principally, vessels for lecture and debate. Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century, currently playing at the Factory Theatre Studio as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival, is a dramatization of ideas. 

Set in the very near future, we are first introduced to a well-dressed, confident woman pitching an new dating app to an equally well-dressed, confident man. She claims her app is better than all the others because it utilizes more extensive and complex personal data than any other. It will take lots of money to access and process all that data and he’s the venture capitalist she hopes will invest.

We meet the rest of the players in the next scene, her co-workers/friends who are app developers all trying to woo venture capitalists and make it big. In the background of the main action, there are news reports of an anarchist exposing a corrupt government’s secrets and attempting to destroy society so that we can rebuild.

It’s all about information and how it can be used to control people. Those who have data and the means to use it, can create or destroy. These people are struggling with issues of pragmatism and ethics that are personal yet have global significance. How do you make it in modern society and at what cost?

My problem is not with the ideas, it’s with the characters. They’re sympathetic enough, but obviously designed to efficiently deliver all of the socio-political and technical information that form the main purpose Anthony MacMahon’s script. The cast and director Ted Witzel keep the energy up and provide plenty of levels in each of the performances, but they are fighting a losing battle with the weight of the play’s message.

Conceptually, this is a blending of two books I haven’t read: Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. It deals with class struggle, as well as financial and social instability. There is a lot I found relevant and interesting, but I was drawn more to the smaller human moments, not the big ideas.

And there are some very compelling moments where I forgot about the big message and found myself caring about someone. And sometimes there’d be a line of dialogue so perfect in its timing and delivery that I felt sucker punched.

I enjoyed the techno-centric aesthetic of this production. There are some simple yet visually dynamic scene changes and projection work. The costumes conveyed personality and lifestyle with precision.

There is some brief nudity at the end. I certainly don’t want to spoil the impact (?) of it, but I don’t really understand what it was meant to convey. A naked body doesn’t have to mean something, but in this particular production I think it’s supposed to.


Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century plays at Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street).

Show times:

  • Thursday August 4th, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
  • Friday August 5th, 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM
  • Sunday August 7th, 7:15 PM – 8:45 PM
  • Monday August 8th, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
  • Tuesday August 9th, 10:30 PM – 12:00 AM
  • Saturday August 13th, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
  • Sunday August 14th, 4:15 PM – 5:45 PM

Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series ticket prices vary. Tickets are available online at, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted. (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Photo provided by the company.