Today was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Toronto, one of the only beautiful, warm, sunny days we've had this year, and I chose to spend part of it sitting inside a tiny dark theatre. However, it wasn't exactly a hardship as I was watching "Noble Parasites," a play I'd wanted to see since I first heard about it. I'm very fortunate to be living in a city with so much theatre. Although I've lived here my entire life, I'd never been to the Theatre Passe Muraille, so that was a first for me. Even more exciting was the prospect of watching Kate Hewlett (who I knew from Stargate Atlantis, of course) perform live. From what I've read in her blog, Kate Hewlett seems very passionate about the theatre, so I was eager to see her in her chosen milieu. I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. While Kate Hewlett has an incredible screen presence, she's definitely in her element on stage. It was a real pleasure to watch her and fellow actors, Julian Richings and Amy Rutherford, perform.
For those of you who aren't familiar with "Noble Parasites," it's a two-part sci-fi play that's both dark and funny. Written by award-winning playwright, Mike McPhaden, the play stars Kate Hewlett (from the aforementioned Stargate Atlantis), Julian Richings (Hard Core Logo, Cube) and Amy Rutherford (Confessions of an American Bride, Puppets Who Kill).
In Part I: The Bookworm, centuries have passed and the world has undergone a drastic change. Most species of animals and plant life have been wiped out, and people have been forced to live underground to avoid the deadly radiation of the sun. Lindy (Kate Hewlett) and Fran (Amy Rutherford) play cousins who are both trying to rise above their current roles in society, though we soon learn that what they truly want most is beyond their reach. I thought both actresses managed to convey the intense hunger, both literal and metaphorical, of their characters. There's visible fear and tension emanating from them during their performances, yet there's also a faint sense of hope underlying that fierce desperation. Even the severe and dogmatic Minister (Julian Richings) isn't completely immune. He obviously craves knowledge beyond the known teachings of their society.
The events of Part II: Sea Change are closer to the present. However, even though it's just decades in the future, the world only has a passing resemblance to our own. It has suffered from even further physical and moral decay, growing increasingly violent and almost entirely dependent on technology. Thomas (Julian Richings), having suffered financial ruin as a result of his own brainchild, seems misplaced and out of synch with his time. His shoes are old and he has trouble interfacing with his personal technological device. His interaction with Kelly (Kate Hewlett) and Heather (Amy Rutherford) doesn't help matters, and he's left even more confused and bewildered. Neither Kelly nor Heather are whom they seem. They each have their own hidden agendas -- quite literally hidden in Kelly's case. As I don't want to give the plot away, I'll just say that Kelly must be a fun character to play. She certainly got a lot of laughs from the audience. It's sad but one of the most amusing moments for me was when Kelly was convinced that Thomas had low blood sugar and pulled an "I-Bar" (think futuristic power bar) out of her bag. Remind you of anyone? *g*
Besides the excellent writing and acting, I think there are a number of factors that make this production work. The sets and costumes are simple but extremely effective. The colours are very muted and almost monochrome, with greys, blacks and browns. Everything is very minimalist, as if all but the most important elements have been stripped away. I think this starkness suits the harsh underground world of the first part particularly well. The lighting and sound effects played a role in both parts, but definitely served to add an extra layer of dimension to the second part.
While "Noble Parasites" is quite dark, I didn't find it bleak or oppressive. I found the stories more thought-provoking than anything, and it helps that there are wonderful touches of humour throughout. The play isn't trying to preach to the audience -- just present two possible scenarios of the future.
For more information about "Noble Parasites" check out the Theatre Passe Muraille website. I also definitely recommend mklutz's review of "Noble Parasites," which made me want to see the play even more.