Last night I had the privilege to attend a showing of Wolf Sounds which opened Friday July 18th in Toronto.
This interpretive dance show (think Pina Bausch) features five actors with Down Syndrome (Nicole Flynn subject of I Am Not Invisible among them). The play touches on issues of sexuality, consent, and figuring out who you are and where you stand in life. The play is excellently directed by Brooke Banning, a Toronto-based playwright, director, and producer. She is currently developing a new two-act play entitled Genitalia.
The show opens with four of the actors in suits, and the other in a rain coat trying to cross the stage between the other actors, who walk quickly back and forth (much like cars on a busy road) overwhelming her. This sequence ends with a fascinating ‘stage floor’ disappearance – that is done without the use of a trap door. Instead, the four actors slide through holes cut in a black piece of fabric covering the performing space. It is after this as each of the actors reemerge in turn that they are in their full costumes for the show.
The performance delves between ensemble pieces featuring all five actors and those featuring 2-3 at a time. Each actor also has a moment on their own. The play is tightly performed and flows from one piece to the rest, with themes explored early on (accepting help, meditating to find your identity, knowing when to ask for consent in sexual situations) being revisited and addressed later on in the piece.
The five actors all do an amazing job – and after over six months of rehearsals you see the real dedication they each have for their craft.
Victor Pereira (Play. Stop. Rewind.) plays a young man looking for love. He has trouble finding it, and also how to connect with someone who wants (or doesn’t want) the same things as him. At first he meets a young woman in a white dress in the park (Lindsey Chalmers), but he crosses a boundary with her, seemingly without realizing it. After this, he is seduced by another young woman (Nicole Flynn) who wears only a pair of exercise shorts and bikini-esque black top for most of the show.
Lindsey Chalmers plays the woman in the white dress. She break-dances in the park on her own, and finds herself drawn into interactions with Victor’s character. At times she seems content on her own, but also curious about the connection he is trying to make with her. In a brilliant scene later on (after their meeting in the park), she is crouched on stage, her hands shaking asking herself the same questions he’d asked of her before.
Amelia McAfee-Brunner plays a young woman who still seems younger and not quite aware of how to navigate the world of relationships. She is taken aside by Nicole Flynn’s character and given a makeover, high heels, and lessons of how to walk and sway her hips to ‘seduce’ a man into wanting her. She tries this and later is attempting to change her whole way of being just to please others. She pursues Dylan Harman’s character even in absence of his interest, playing songs for him on the guitar, and not seeming to realize he’s looking for something different.
Dylan Harman (The Rainbow Connection) plays a young man also searching for something. At first he is meditating in the park when a young woman (Amelia McAfee-Brunner) comes around, walking around and around him in high heels, much to his annoyance. After a few passes, he asks to try on the shoes himself, stating that he ‘likes to get in touch with his feminine side’. Later on, he is not just wearing the heels, but a slip-like dress as well, putting on makeup in the mirror as Amelia’s character still tries hopelessly to pursue him with her guitar.
Nicole Flynn’s role in the play is interesting. A lot of it is dance-oriented, and her synchronized swimming flexibility and dance skills are definitely on show here. She has an amazing ability to show emotion and connect to the audience through movement, subtle and overt at the same time, and always played with precision. She goes between character and character both at times denying any help from them and trying to help them and herself. She plays a sexualized young woman who uses her body for power and demanding what she wants. Representing extreme independence, for most of the show she does what she wants, when she wants it, which leads to a final showdown between her and Victor’s character which includes guns, and yes, even fake blood.
All five of the actors carry the play in this ensemble piece. The simple staging, lighting, and minimal props allow them to change the scenes themselves and let them flow one to the next continuously with no need for a curtain closing. Each actor has their moment to shine, and are an integral part of the piece. The way they work both together and separately is fascinating and after the play ends you see the real camaraderie the actors have with each other. They have to – since the roles are very physical and it is integral that they be comfortable being in close contact at certain points in the play.
The play is interesting where it takes us. Some may find it surprising how sexualized the play is, or its inclusion of violence, but knowing the actors and the ideas behind it I wasn’t necessarily. All professional adults, these actors are at a point in their careers where exploring deeper themes on stage is an important step forward as actors. They all perform the material very well, engaging the audience, and providing lighter moments of humour along with the darker bits. The hour flies by, and Wolf Sounds leaves plenty to talk about once it is over.
The venue for the performance is small and a little hard to find. Due to the tight budget for this piece, this rental allows the play to be performed. It is on the main floor of an old apartment building near Bathurst and Front in Toronto. Once inside and the performance starts though, you forget where you are for an hour and let the play wash over you.
There are four more shows – Sunday (today) July 20th at 2pm, Friday July 25th at 8pm, Saturday July 26th at 8pm, and Sunday July 27th at 2pm. Tickets can be bought here and range from $20-$25 ($15-$20 for students): www.brownpapertickets.com/event/706413
Location: The Box Toronto – 89 Niagara Street, Unit 103, Toronto, ON