James Ryan Gobuty
When you think death is at your doorstep, what happens to your relationships in the here and now? This is one of the primary questions at work in Little Death, the new play by young Toronto playwright Daniel Karasik, as part of the collaborative production model called The Riser Project.
Alex (Christopher Stanton) is sick. He doesn’t know how much time he has left on earth. Knowing that time is short, Alex decides he wants to experience life as he hasn’t, particularly in the company of women he meets in a hotel bar. The only impediment to Alex’s exploration is that he is married to his high school sweetheart Brit (Nicole Underhay), and though she gives him permission to gallivant, this experiment takes its toll on the pair. Karasik’s script is particularly poignant as it doesn’t focus so much on the issue of dealing with death, but rather on the more complicated issue of coping with life in the face of death.
What becomes clear very quickly is that Alex’s interest in other sexual partners isn’t rooted in some sort of base lecherousness. With every partner he meets he seems to be searching for comfort as his well-managed life turns into a great unknown, making use of these many “little deaths” (the French term for an orgasm) to gain insight on his impending real death.
The acting calibre in Little Death goes a long way to making this production a success. Christopher Stanton’s portrayal of Alex is remarkable for its restraint; there is a slightly chilling calm in his demeanor throughout the play. Nicole Underhay creates the perfect contrast, as Brit, to Stanton’s performance, by executing the characters understandable emotional volatility with perfect timing. Underhay develops Brit’s character arc beautifully and allows the nuance of her situation to shine through, making relatable a character that could very easily become off-putting.
The production elements of the show are also excellently executed under the direction of Zachary Florence. The set, designed by Jenna McCutchen, consists of ramps leading up to a raised perimeter. The set showcases the versatility of the playing space, allowing for the rather simple set to be used effectively as many different locations. The set is also aided by the great lighting design by the always fabulous André du Toit, whose addition of red light during the scene transitions contributes to the impending moment of dread.
Little Death isn’t a flashy show, but it’s a show that uses some of the finest talent in Toronto’s theatrical scene to deal with real and complicated questions about the human condition.
Little Death is playing at the BMO Incubator at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) until May 3 as part of the Riser Project. Tickets can be purchased online at thetheatrecentre.org or by calling the box office at (416)-538-0988.
photo credit: Emily Lockhart