‘Lion in the Streets’ play review
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Lion in the Streets sweeps audiences along in an emotionally tumultuous adventure of intertwining stories and deeply-buried truths.
The latest production from the Departments of Theatre and Stagecraft & Event Technology, written by Judith Thompson and directed by Claire Fogal, opened on March 16. Lion in the Streets tells a colourful ensemble of stories, and at the play’s heart is nine-year-old Isobel, a First Nations girl adopted into a Portuguese family, on a quest to discover what has happened to her. Along her search for truth, she uncovers a myriad of other secrets—forgotten, repressed, and tucked out of sight.
The play boasts an impressive array of characters, with many of its 13 student and alumni actors playing multiple roles over the course of the show. With the exception of the indomitable Isobel, a lot of the characters appear in only one or two scenes, yet their limited moments on stage are enough to intimately introduce audiences to their circumstances and build up the audience’s emotional investment into their personal struggles.
There’s Sue, for example, the weary wife and mother who wishes to keep her family together. There’s Joanne, who conceals beneath her pragmatism a hopelessly, tragically picturesque wish. There’s Rodney, the research assistant haunted by an overbearing boss and the tantalizing, turbulent memories of a childhood friend. These characters along with the others in the play, composed though they seem from the outside, struggle to confront their inner demons.
Thompson’s script masterfully weaves together these many personal scenes, letting each of them linger long enough to truly touch the audience before transitioning seamlessly to another story. Separately, the tales all have their own charm; taken as a whole, with Isobel’s character flowing through each, they’re a mosaic of what it means to be alive.
The play also manages to balance absurd hilarity and moments of raw trauma, with just enough magical realism to make it work. Some scenes in the play are completely comical, even though the material they grapple with should be sombre. Other scenes are utterly and agonizingly horrific, as characters face situations that are embarrassing or downright heart-wrenching. However, the play’s ambience of faint surrealism allows its moments of absurdity to reach full hilarity, while also allowing these moments to intermingle and overlap with periods of solemnity.
The score of Lion in the Streets uses exclusively Canadian music, which enhances the play’s local and national familiarity. From Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq to national favourite The Tragically Hip to hit indie acts like Cœur de pirate and Feist, the score comprehensively showcases Canadiana in many of its diverse forms.
Lion in the Streets is as much a play worth watching as it is a montage of stories worth telling. Isobel’s quest reaches the heart of issues that are direly in need of examining and bringing to light—coming to terms with trauma and abuse, acknowledging the darker realities of humanity, and reconciling the broader disconnect between who we think we are and who we believe we’re supposed to be.
The play runs until March 23 in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre. Tickets can still be bought online at https://lioninthestreets2018.brownpapertickets.com/.