Artscape Soundbox, a new theatre in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, opens their new studio space with an early work by critically acclaimed playwright Caryl Churchill. Despite my excitement upon entering the space, I left the show processing the entire ninety minutes – whether this is a theatrical tactic or a flaw of the production is something I am still pondering.
Objections to Sex and Violence follows Jule (Zoë Sweet), an anarchist recently released from jail who secludes to the seaside. Jule’s sister Annie (Tosha Doiron) and her husband Phil (Philip Graeme) visit her, creating chaos as they strive to grasp Jule’s strong political opinions and choices. Jule’s relationships with them and her lovers are affected as she wholeheartedly commits to serving justice and taking part in revolution.
Caryl Churchill wrote this piece in 1974 at a time when Great Britain’s global protest movement began turning violent. Student groups began using acts of violence to challenge those in power to become accountable for their actions. In the aftermath of our recent election, Churchill’s script is relevant more than ever as it focuses on the ways our relationships are affected by the power of politics.
While I did not find this specific work as striking as her later works, Michael Wheeler’s direction highlighted some stunning portions of the script that caught my attention. When the writing and design elements would collide together, like when Annie attempts to bury her sister, or when Jule angrily throws pop cans at Eric (Ben Sanders), the entire production is enlivened and unified.
Shannon Lea Doyle’s set is displayed on a thrust stage with the audience sitting on three sides. The set is stagnant for the entire run, containing two black rocks, sand covering the entire acting space and within it, black pop cans and other debris. The atmosphere is incredibly intimate and the actors are so up close to the audience that it almost makes you uncomfortable.
Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound and Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s lighting allows us to focus our complete attention on the transitional sequences between scenes. These sets of visceral images were unclear at first as to how they connected, but with the last transition between Jule and Annie unable and unwilling to hug each other, their troubled relationship is brought to the forefront. Krysztofiak’s blue hues and Payne’s subtle beats heighten this somber moment. After finding this instance strong, I began to process the previous transitions as sub-textual pieces that contain elements of character development. Much kudos is given to Zoë Sweet and Tosha Doiron for their stylized movement that was creative and thought-provoking all at once.
What helps give Objections a little more life are the performances from a wickedly talented ensemble. Sweet is captivating in her entrance to the play, making me unable to take my eyes off of her. She is a radical and a destructive woman who has made it her mission to accomplish her revolutionary goals while simultaneously leaving behind all her personal relationships. There is also a softer side that Sweet plays when in contact with Terry (Jamie Robinson), reminding us that she is also human and affected by loss. Her chaotic dynamic with Annie is the relationship that stands out the most as Sweet and Doiron portray both the estrangement as sisters and the urge for closeness with one another.
Despite a strong cast and visuals, there is something missing in the energy of this production that does not leave it quite as memorable as expected. Whether it was the play’s generally slow pace or the various relationships developed that made it difficult to stay on top of, much of the story ended up being lost on me. With a Churchill play that shows lots of promise, Artscape Soundbox’s production doesn’t leave me as affected as I should be.
Presented by The Sex + Violence Collective with support from Praxis Theatre and FeverGraph Theatre, Objections to Sex and Violence runs at Artscape Soundbox (301 Adelaide St. W) until Nov.14.