Thursday Theatre Review: Lullaby

Site-specific theatre is a tricky beast. Away from the carefully crafted environments and glossy production values of a 'traditional' theatre, there's nothing to hide behind. You've got to have a solid script and a great cast, or the thing will invariably go south.

Fortunately, Dark Horse Theatre's production of Lullaby is twice blessed. Presented in the rather unlikely location of an interior design store, the play features a trio of fine performances and a surprisingly sophisticated script.

Lullaby tells the story of Leandra and Looch, a yuppie-ish couple engaged in a rather uninspired attempt to renovate an old Parkdale boarding house. Looch is obsessed with work, and Leandra is desperately unhappy- trapped in a dead-end job and hovering somewhere on the border of alcoholism and an addiction to prescription pills. Enter Kenny- a former resident of the house, flush with a lottery win and fighting demons of his own. He talks the couple into renting him the downstairs appartment, and his chaotic presence begins to reveal the tensions and unhappiness at the core of Leandra and Looch's lives.

This is a story that could easily slide into stereotypes- either a Cape Fear-esque 'yuppies vs. the degenerates' type deal or, equally unpleasant, a left-wing screed against gentrification. It's a credit to playwright Thelon Oeming that the play avoids these silos. In fact, Oeming has created an extremely interesting piece of theatre that features both genuinely human characters and a nuanced understanding of the conflicts that simmer in Toronto's shifting cityscape. Rather than present gentrification as a crusade against the poor, Oeming portrays it in much more nuanced terms- a collection of people from different social and economic backgrounds, struggling to understand one another and ending up in a mess. In Lullaby, the colonization of Parkdale by the upper middle class is presented in terms of people, not ideology. And for this reason, the play resonates all the more effectively.

Oeming has also managed to create a compelling picture of loneliness and desperation. He draws a subtle parallel between Kenny and Leandra's unhappiness, and the play turns crucially on their relationship. No matter income or education, suffering is a language understood by everyone unlucky enough to experience it. Oeming's understanding of this truth, and his ability to present it without cliche or melodrama is a central strength of his script.

Lullaby's haunting subtlety is powerfully communicated by the cast. Dusan Dukic and Amy Rutherford put in effective performances as Looch and Leandra, Rutherford in particular doing a nice job of portraying her character's fragility and quiet slide into depression. But the real star of the show is David Ferry as Kenny. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I believe I used the phrase 'theatrical ninja' while describing his performance to a friend. His attention to detail and endless shifts of emotion are absolutely riveting. Here, experience shows. Ferry's castmates, recent graduates of the National Theatre School of Canada, play their characters broadly, latching on to particular attributes or emotions. But I really got the sense that Ferry was living inside his character, bringing a complete individual forward in his performance. And because Ferry's character is so important to the show, his excellent performance makes the whole thing work.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I really liked this play. Great script, great performances, and great David Ferry. It's a well-executed piece of theatre ultimately relevant to everyone who lives in Toronto. And while not everyone in Toronto will fit into the small space, you should definitely try and check it out.

Lullaby runs at Simone Interiors (1690 Queen Street West) until November 18 at 8PM. Tickets available at the door, or call 416 460 9306.

Photo (L-R): Amy Rutherford, Dusan Dukic and David Ferry.

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