By Nicolas Billon. Directed by Kathleen Duborg. A Dirt Road/Iceland Equity Co-op production at Studio 16 on April 24. Continues until May 3
It’s hard to imagine a better introduction to the work of playwright Nicolas Billon—who won a Governor General’s award last year for Fault Lines, a trilogy that includes Iceland—than this exquisite production.
Iceland is a series of monologues by three characters repositioning themselves in the new global economy: Kassandra, a graduate student who works as a prostitute to help pay off the gambling debts of her twin brother back home in Estonia; Halim, an unapologetic capitalist who proudly flashes the money clip that he fills by flipping condos; and Anna, a devout young Christian woman who’s been knocked off-balance by a recent eviction from the apartment she loved. Billon’s characters are superbly drawn, their voices are distinct and human, and no detail is wasted as their stories eventually, ingeniously, intersect.
Director Kathleen Duborg keeps the staging simple: the theatricality comes from the immediacy of our encounter with each character, and the acting in this production is outstanding. Playing Kassandra, Lindsey Angell pulls off a convincing Estonian accent; even more impressive is her ability to modulate between vulnerability and deadpan narration, sometimes in a single breath. When Kassandra tells how she first met her pimp, a fellow Estonian who turns out to know her cousins, as her client in a massage parlour, she observes flatly, “This is a very strange conversation, because I’m holding his penis the whole time.”
Halim is vulgar, selfish, callous, and offensive in every way—except that he’s so damn likeable. Munish Sharma has a terrific ability to be present, working the room like a standup comic as he gives a miniseminar on his capitalist philosophy: “abstract ideas, ethics, morals don’t stand a chance against cold, hard cash.” And Georgia Beaty’s Anna is delightfully eccentric, whether imitating the squeak of her childhood pet guinea pig, nibbling on a bar of soap after swearing, or sharing her indignation at finding her just-vacated apartment up for sale: “I tweet about it, and everyone is appalled.”
Chris McGregor’s minimalist set and John Webber’s lighting enhance our sense of the characters’ desperation. Iceland is both a compelling story of three people in trouble and an intelligent critique of capitalism gone wild—which makes it both entertaining and timely.