The City by Martin Crimp at Berekely Street Theatre Upstairs

The City is a bleak, disconnected mystery

The City, by Martin Crimp, is the kind of play that makes you scratch your head and try to put the pieces together afterwards.

It's a complex, layered play by the Actors Repertory Company that might make better sense on repeat viewings. On its own, it kind of throws you a curveball or two: just when you think you've got the three main characters worked out, the rug gets pulled from underneath you and your assumptions are turned on their head.

Award-winning Romanian Director Cristian Popescu is behind this Canadian premiere that opened Friday night. The City is a dark and intriguing comic mystery that begins to unravel well into the stark 90-minute script.

Sound (by Robert Perrault) and lighting (by Sandra Marcroft) are effectively sparse. The entire play takes place in a barely changing set (designed by Gillian Gallow) with a bleak whitewashed floor, walls and ceiling. It all takes place in this nondescript house and its back garden. Yet our imaginations take it places we choose....

We hear the whoosh of a subway train. The sound of a blackbird chirping. But is it real or a dream? It's hard to tell.

Sounds confusing? Good. That's part of the plot. Or ploy.

This is a surreal play that describes a writer's imaginary world as she's living it. The characters she's inventing in her mind become her reality -- and ours -- as we follow her through her life as a translator.

The acting is quite captivating. Especially that of Deborah Drakeford (who plays Claire) whom I've enjoyed previously on stage in The Dining Room. Peter James Haworth (as Claire's husband Christopher) is somewhat less convincing. While Janet Porter (playing their neighbour Jenny) adds to The City's charm. Young actor Anja Bundy rounds out the performers (as "Girl").

Some of the interpretation of the script needs to allow for more of a connection with the audience to help this play make sense as a cohesive story. Or perhaps disconnection is what we're supposed to feel upon observing The City.

The City continues until April 3 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs. Tickets are $25 General Admission; $15 S/S/Artists; PWYC Monday. Tickets are available by phone at 416-368-3110, online, in person at the Berkeley Street Box Office, or at the door.

Photo by Julie Le Gal.

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