Ghosts of the past reveal the sins of the Father in the haunting, sharply funny, compelling Omission

Andrea Irwin, Thomas O’Neill, Evan Walsh & Gillian Reed. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Lighting design by Wes Babcock. Photo by Bruce Peters.

 

Peter denied Jesus three times and yet became the Rock upon which the Catholic Church was built—its first Pope. Cardinal Matias Iglesias denies knowing three people from his past and he is a favourite to become the next Pope.

Alumnae Theatre Company explores sins of commission and omission in a time of civil and social conflict in Alice Abracen’s Omission, directed by Anne Harper.

It’s the eve of a papal conclave, and Canadian journalist Megan Gutierrez (Gillian Reed) visits the office of Latin American Cardinal Matias Iglesias (Thomas O’Neill), to interview him as part of a piece about the top candidates for the papacy. The jocular tone of their meeting turns adversarial when she asks him about three people: Angelo Flores, Laura Ballan-Kohn and Gabriel Mejia. While initially denying knowledge of any of them, when faced with accusations of complicity in the actions of a military junta, the Cardinal convinces Megan to stay and hear his side of the story. The ghosts from his past—General Angelo Flores (Lawrence Aronovitch), Professor Laura Ballan-Kohn (Andrea Irwin)  and Father Gabriel Mejia (Evan Walsh)—all materialize as he relates the events and relationships.

Keeping his head down and careful to not antagonize the ruling regime, Iglesias—a Bishop when these events began—is determined to protect his people from harm no matter what the cost. But civil conflict arrives on his doorstep when Ballan-Kohn, a long-time friend and confidante, begins to speak out against the witch hunt on certain political and philosophical books, and the students and teachers who own them are rounded up never to be seen again. And Mejia, who considers Iglesias a mentor, disobeys orders to avoid certain areas, where he’s been secretly administering to the hungry and dying—criminals and terrorists in the eyes of the regime. Afraid that his friends’ resistance is putting them in grave danger, Iglesias is unable to mollify Flores, a friend from childhood who now enforces the party line, describing the missing and murdered as having “left the country”—viewing all resistors as terrorists, and their absence a political boon.

Strong, committed performances from the entire cast in this story of confession, revelation and absolution. O’Neill, a former Archdiocese of Toronto altar boy, is an impressive presence as the ambitious Cardinal. As charming and affable as he is diplomatic and cunning, Iglesias knows how to play the political game—but when the game gets too close to home, will he still have the stomach to play it? Reed brings a great sense of mission and conflict to Megan; sharp-witted and relentless in her determination to discover the truth, Megan is also nervous, vulnerable and harbouring a secret of her own.

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Foreground: Andrea Irwin & Thomas O’Neill. Background: Gillian Reed, Lawrence Aronovitch & Evan Walsh. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Lighting design by Wes Babcock. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Walsh gives young Father Gabriel a lovely aura of awkward, youthful drive. Naiveté and idealism mature with Gabriel’s earnest passion to do what is right, no matter how dangerous to his own well-being. Irwin is an unstoppable force as the mercurial, rambunctious and irreverent Professor Ballan-Kohn. Whip-smart, and possessing of a fiery spirit and courageous soul, Ballan-Kohn—whose parents are Holocaust survivors—knows what it means when good people do nothing. Aronovitch does a great job with the two lives of General Flores; doting new father, good-humoured friend and religiously observant, he is also a cool, detached military man who follows and gives deadly and life-altering orders without question. An extreme example, the General reminds us of the compartmentalized life that anyone can live.

Sin goes beyond the commission of bad deeds to include the omission of good deeds. But what about the role of environment and circumstance? For better or worse, we all do what we feel is right, and in our guts and power to do in the moment. At what point do confession and absolution constitute forgiveness? In the end, like Megan, we are left to our own judgement of these proceedings. And who among us is without sin.

With shouts to the design team for their work on creating this theatrical world, where souls from the past commune with those of the present to tell this story: Margaret Spence (costumes), Evelyn Clarke (props), Teodoro Dragonieri (set), Ali Berkok (sound) and Wes Babcock (lighting).

Ghosts of the past reveal the sins of the Father in the haunting, sharply funny, compelling Omission.

Omission continues on the Alumnae mainstage until February 3; advance tickets available online or at the door (cash only). Tickets are $25, with half-price tickets on Wednesdays and PWYC Sunday matinees.

 

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Community, conflict & discovery in New Ideas funny & poignant Week 3 program

NIF 2016It’s the final week of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (NIF),  and the Week 3 program features an extra bonus show: a lobby play. So get to the theatre early (around 7:30 p.m. to get a good spot in the lobby near the staircase to the mainstage) for this extra NIF treat.

The Nurse (lobby playby Francine Dick, directed by Mandy Roveda and featuring actor Margaret Rose Keery). A delightful short solo piece, and very meta as actor Keery plays an actor reluctantly preparing for a callback for Romeo and Juliet. She starts out being certain she’s not right for the part, but as she enlists assistance from the audience to read with her while she prepares – against her will – she learns something about the part and possibly about herself. Strong, engaging work from Keery.

Provenance (by Linda McCready, directed by Pam Redfern). Disillusioned chef Alicia (Fleur Jacobs) has high hopes when she makes a trip to Webster’s Falls with art professor Martin (Eric Edquist), who she hopes will authenticate a painting she plans to sell in order to fund her own Italian restaurant. Jacobs brings a lovely sense of sass and adventurousness as Alicia; and Edquist’s is adorkable as the awkward, precise and decidedly not outdoorsy professor. A sweet two-hander with some interesting and surprising discoveries.

Trying (by Norma Crawford, directed by Juliet Paperny). The double meaning of the title of this very funny and touching play becomes evident very quickly as three at-risk young adults wait for their yoga teacher (part of a mandated social services program). Great work all around from the cast: Michelle T. Baynton as the energetic, medicated handful Tracey; Adam Malcolm as the new guy Brent, conflicted and itching to get to the casino; Evan Walsh as the sweet, introverted misfit Jimmy; Susannah Mackay as the troubled, mysterious surprise guest Lily; and Annie McKay as their put-upon, prim teacher Beth. All are struggling to find their way – even the teacher.

Sick Kids Wanna Talk to You (by Carolyn Bennett, directed by Jennifer McKinley). A Sick Kids hospital street canvasser goes head to head with an irate passerby. Great combination of hilarity and devastating honesty, with a stand-out cast: Wendy Fox has excellent comic delivery and spunk as canvasser Makayla; and Lydia Kiselyk goes well beyond the straight man wither her performance of Joan, a woman of hawk-like intensity and focus, with more brewing beneath her tightly wound surface. As their initial adversarial dynamic shifts and changes, both come to important realizations.

Four Hours (by Joan Burrows, directed by Helen Munroe). An abduction? A carjacking? When a neighbour’s young child goes missing, local residents pull together and apart. Hoping for the best for the missing boy, residents can’t help but fear this is just one more example of how crime and safety have become critical issues in their area. The play pulls from the headlines (a very recent one, coincidentally) of amber alerts and discrimination, particularly against Muslim immigrants, as secrets and fears emerge among neighbourhood residents. Lovely work from this ensemble cast: Samantha Adams, Armand Antony, Nikki Chohan, Julia Haist, Mitchell Janiak, Tina McCulloch, Zachary McKendrick, Chris Peterson and Rebecca Wolfe. Stand-outs include Janiak, as young new resident Shu, the narrator of the story; and Chohan as Farah, the neighbourhood newcomer who’s forced to defend her own son against residents’ suspicions. Conflict, confessions and closure in this moving, insightful play.

Community, conflict and discovery in New Ideas funny and poignant Week 3 program.

The Week Three program continues to March 27, with talkbacks following the Saturday matinée performance. Also on Sat, Mar 26 is the noon reading:  Omission (by Alice Abracen,  directed by Michela Sisti).

For ticket info, visit the website. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the box office at 416-364-4170 (press 1) or in-person one hour before show time (cash only). Advance booking strongly recommended; this is a popular festival and the Studio is an intimate space.

Check out the Week 3 trailer: