The Enchanted Loom is a nuanced, layered show exploring the realities of refugees for Toronto audiences
The Enchanted Loom, currently being produced by Cahoots Theatre Company at Factory Theatre, captivatingly explores refugee life at the intersections of politics, health, gender, and family dynamics.
Thangan, the family’s patriarch, was a journalist in Sri Lanka during the civil war, imprisoned for his political writing. Torture while incarcerated has left him with extensive scarring on several areas of his brain, resulting in daily, debilitating epileptic seizures.
Thangan, his wife, son, and daughter are now refugees in Toronto. Canadian neurologists have been unable to stabilize his condition. Amidst this health crisis, the entire family is haunted by the spectre of Cavallan, the eldest son who was killed in the war.
Playwright Suvendrini Lena is a neurologist, and the script weaves clinical precision with poetic lyricism. This is Lena’s first play, and any risk Cahoots took in mounting a debut work paid off handsomely. While I found the opening passage of dialog somewhat stilted, this was quickly forgotten as we were drawn into the tale.
I could feel the audience’s heart collectively breaking as various characters lived out the ramifications of those choices. This heartbreak manifested in tears for some audience members, and the devastation was palpable throughout the house. The storytelling is sensitive and nuanced.
There are no good guys and bad guys. No heroes or people you love to hate. Everyone is a fully realized, relatable human being, doing the best they can with the hand they have been dealt. We also do not get a nicely resolved, happy ending. It is obvious by the end of the play that there is no feasible way for it to end well.
The play was directed by Marjorie Chan, who is also the artistic director of Cahoots Theatre Company. Having been totally entranced by Chan’s direction of M’dea Undone for Tapestry Opera, I was excited to see this production. The choice of this work speaks to Ms. Chan’s understanding of and commitment to Cahoots Theatre Company’s mandate.
The discussion of the Sri Lankan civil war is compassionate and thoughtful. All of the characters are people of colour, including the physicians, and they are played by actors of the races that are embedded in the script. It was also clear from the strength of the performances that Ms. Chan had given each character’s motivations a great deal of reflection.
Sam Kalilieh was gripping in the role of seizure-stricken Thangan. While most of his dialog occurs during his seizure-free and lucid moments, his anguish at the loss of his former self clearly resonated with the audience. The fine line between sanity and insanity, and lucidity and fantasy are also key themes. Kalilieh’s portrayal of Thangan teetered on that fine line.
Kawa Ada played the role of the dutiful, intellectual son Kanan, as well as the apparition of Kavalan, the son lost in the war. His transition to the role of Kavalan required an emotional 180 degree turn, and Ada delivered impressively.
It is clear that Kavalan’s absence is a tangible presence in the family dynamic. The family’s visions of him reveal their deepest hopes and fears, and metaphorically represent the piece that will always be missing from all of them. Ada did a superb job of expressing this symbolism, while also clearly portraying Kavalan’s humanity.
Zorana Sadiq was moving in the role of of Sevi, Thangan’s erstwhile wife and current caregiver. In many way, Sivi is the most ethically complex of the characters, and Sadiq interpreted this complexity with intellect and creativity. When she revealed her truth, the audience clearly hung on her every word and was consumed with empathy for the impossible set of choices she was faced with.
The set, props, and costume design by Joanna Yu was simple and effective. The stark, white stage had Plexiglas boxes mounted on the walls containing a mix of cultural artifacts, medical equipment, and scientific texts. The set created a sterile, clinical feel that was belied by the raw, messy emotions transpiring on stage. This contrast illustrated the tensions between the medicalized brain and the communal yet untamed nature of memory that are central to the work.
The program explains that the term The Enchanted Loom is a neurologist’s metaphor for the human brain and its intricacy. This play is also quite intricate and the team at Cahoots Theatre Company have done an outstanding job with it. This work is not only worth seeing, but important.
- The Enchanted Loom is playing until November 27, 2016 at Factory Theatre, (125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON)
- Show times are November 15 – 19, November 22 – 26 at 8 PM, with additional matinees on November 20 & 27 at 2 PM
- Ticket prices range from $20 to $45. Student, Senior and Art Worker tickets range from $20 to $30.
- Tickets are available by phone at 416-504-9971 or online
Photo of Kawa Ada by Dahlia Katz