Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
What starts out as a typical – though especially fraught and edgy – high school garage party on a suburban Friday night ends in a starkly unexpected way, in Geoffrey Simon Brown’s play The Circle, at the Tarragon Extraspace. The 26-year-old playwright, close in age to his characters, says the play is about growing up, about family, about friends, about violence and the points where people are stretched so far that they break, and “ultimately, beyond anything else, this is a play about love, about understanding, and hopefully, about forgiveness.” He has produced a script that is both daring and beautifully-crafted. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Note that the play contains explicit language and depiction of violence as part of the plot. (Shakespeare’s plays probably contain more aggression).
Peter Pasyk directs the wonderful ensemble cast with crispness and compassion. Electric tension crackles throughout the 85-minute, one-act production, but there are also moments of tenderness and longing between the six characters. All the characters have problems with their families, some sense of estrangement. Ily, earnestly played by Jakob Ehman, is the nominal host of the party. He is smart but has dropped out of high school and is now working. He lives in the garage of his girlfriend Amanda’s family home.
Amanda, a bright, thoughtful grade-12 student well-acted by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, who shows Amanda’s mixed feelings about the evening and her life.
Two friends who drop by are Will; a young, gay boy of colour and his new partner Daniel, whose “preppy” demeanor hides tragedy. Daniel Ellis plays Will with dynamic energy and the sense of being a “lost boy;” Jake Vanderham creates the right tone for Daniel, a counterpoint to the other teens. Finally, enter the self-invited guests: Ily’s former friend, Tyler – aka “Mutt” – and his companion/girlfriend Kit. They are without money & without a place to stay, though Kit does seem to have a home to return to. She is played by Nikki Duval, in a moving depiction of a “Goth”-type girl who is lonely, needy, but also strong. Brian Solomon gives an amazing performance as “Mutt.” He is the most extreme character, desperate, cocky, with a history of violence (and perhaps of being abused), wanting to reach out yet pushing people away. He stretches himself and others to the breaking point – probably because he is so broken inside. A dancer as well an actor, Solomon moves with panther-like grace and fierceness as he interacts with other people in the room.
At the climax, he draws them all together. We see the strengths and vulnerabilities of each person and the whole group. As a parent of a son who survived adolescence and as a writer and therapist, I empathize with these characters, and understand how behavior that seems “anti-social” can arise out of deep emotional needs and hurts. Like Concord Floral, the Canadian Stage production I reviewed earlier this fall, this play gives a voice to adolescents coping with life; will we see more plays like this?
Patrick Lavender’s set captures the grungy feel of the garage, with excellent attention to detail in the props, furniture, etc. Joanna Yu’s costumes capture the emotional essence of each character. Steve Wilsher directed the very believable fight scenes, and Thomas Ryder-Payne has created an excellent sound design.
The Circle runs at Tarragon Extra Space through November 27th.