Eric Peterson and Philip Riccio in Festen

Thursday Theatre Review: Festen

When I went to The Company Theatre's production of Festen it was one of those rare opportunities for me to go to a show completely blind. I didn't know what it was about, so I didn't know what to expect. All I had heard about the show (even though I purposely tried not to read anything about it, there are things that always slip through) was that it was "intense". And yes, yes it was. Intense is a good word for it. It was also great.

My show-partner for this one was Kate, who is 'in the business' as they say. This is a show that you can enjoy without knowing a scrap of theatre theory, but it's also kind of a theatre-geek's wet dream. So, going to it with someone who is in the industry made for some pretty fun conversation afterward. But don't worry, I'll stay away from the theatre-geek stuff as much as possible while I write about it here.

We both really enjoyed the show. I told her I was blown away, she said parts blew her away, but other parts didn't work for her. I think it's safe to say that she was still impressed, just not quite as impressed as me. Either way, this is a show that has a big impact.

Walking into the space, my first impression was "wow". In fact, I said it out loud.

I wasn't expecting the vast expanse of the stage. The traditional 'walls' of the stage were stripped away and the stage extended right back to the brick. Also intriguing, the stage was filled with stand-alone lights instead of the traditional 'lights in the ceiling'. They lit main spaces - a dining room, a bedroom and a bathroom. These are only identifiable as specific spaces though the furniture; there are no indicators of separation, increasing the open feeling.

Kate pointed out that the beginning kind of dragged, that it felt kind of like the actors hadn't quite decided on what that night's performance would be. I wouldn't have noticed it that specifically, but when she put it that way I immediately understood. For me it just felt like there wasn't a dynamic beginning. There were also some pacing issues throughout the piece, but as the show went on there was a palpable change as the actors found their characters and went to town.

I don't want to go into the plot, because I actually think this is a show that's better if you go in a bit blind, but I do think I should warn you, this is not an 'easy' show. It's intense.

Rest assured, although there are emotionally horrific moments, they are balanced out with some of the funniest moments I've seen on stage in a very long time. I actually was laughing so hard it hurt (even though sometimes I felt guilty since sometimes it came in tandem with some heart-wrenching words).

This is a show that doesn't pull punches. There's a lot of violence, some implied, some that happens off stage, and some that happens right before your eyes. Tough topics aren't shied away from. Emotions lay obviously on the surface, but aren't acknowledged, so they never go away. Like I said, this isn't an easy play.

If you get a chance to, I would recommend checking this one out. If nothing else, it's dark, but funny. It's different than a lot of what you see on stage.

- Festen plays at the Berkley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St) until Dec 13, 2008
- Shows run Monday - Saturday at 8pm, with a matinee on Saturday at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $20 to $40 and can be purchased in person at the Berkeley Street Theatre, or the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, or by calling 416.368.3110 or online

Photo of Eric Peterson and Philip Riccio by Guntar Kravis.

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