A city on fire. Coyotes, and other wild and domestic animals wander the streets as people flee the flames and smoke to seek refuge in a safe place, on higher ground. The city has run out of firefighters. The mayor is nowhere to be found and rumour has it that she’s abandoned the city, hiding out in an underground bunker – or dead.
It is in this world that three unlikely relationships emerge: Sulla (Molly Flood), a young woman with a man’s name who always wears the same pair of jeans and is good at picking off coyotes with a rifle; the Assassin (Clinton Carew) who lives above her, from the Brotherhood of Assassins, believed to be the cause of all the fires; and the Boy (Philip Nozuka) who lives alone across the hall and writes a self-published community paper called City Streets, which he sets out on the newspaper rack at the local 7-Eleven (where he gets all his groceries). The Boy wants to interview Sulla for the paper because he finds her interesting. The Assassin wants to kill her. Sulla just wants to get out, go outside – go shopping maybe – but she can’t bring herself to leave or move to another apartment. And she doesn’t want people to know who she is. Throughout the course of the action, they get updates on the state of emergency from the radio via updates from Radio 1 (Ishan Davé) and Radio 2 (Brett Donahue).
Excellent work from the cast on this dystopic, near future tale of urban destruction and personal connections. Flood brings some lovely layers to Sulla, a haunted, guarded and cynical young woman, strong and fearless, yet so vulnerable and sad. Carew is comically ominous as the Assassin, a hooded, solitary professional who narrates his life aloud and reveals his role to the others. Is he just bored or is he showing off or overstating his abilities? Nozuka is delightful as the home-schooled Boy, bright and imaginative, precocious and brimming with a can-do positive attitude; he’s making the best of the situation, but he too knows that they can’t keep going the way they are – and he wants to be ready. All three are lost, abandoned and desperately longing for human contact – touch. Even the two radio guys (Davé and Donahue) have a deep, poignant connection, as one is out in the field reporting back to the station, while the other keeps listeners abreast of what’s going on. Everyone’s waiting out the fire, hoping for a change in the weather, something. Something to make things better so they can pick up the pieces and rebuild from the ashes. One thing for sure is nothing will ever be the same.
With big shouts to set/lighting designer Joe Pagnan for the multi-level scaffolding structure, which allows for a multi-layered playing space that features some acrobatic, jungle gym-like staging. The red on air light and fog set us firmly in the emergent, smoky environment of this world. And shouts to It Could Still Happen for a really cool, cleverly designed program – it’s a copy of City Streets, with three pieces, each written from the point of view of the three main characters, with production credits on the back page.
Three strangers reach out for connection in a high-rise above a city on fire in the quirky, dark and thoughtful The Tall Building.
The Tall Building has two more performances at the TPM Backspace: tonight (Sat, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow (Sun, Aug 16) at 3:00 p.m.