What do you get when you cross a butcher, a bartender and a haul truck driver stuck in the middle of nowhere? A stark look at the ways in which we struggle to connect amid the loneliness of our modern world.
Bleak but hopeful, Dead Roads is a moment in time for three women living in the cold, desolate landscape of Fort McMurray. Though they never connect with one another, we are privy to their intimate thoughts as each attempts to make sense of their lives and the bizarre events that surround them. One is growing wings, another is stuck with a mountain of meat and the third can’t escape from her dreams.
Darwin Lyons’ butcher resonates with authenticity as she grapples with how and why she ended up trying to sell an enormous load of organic pork to her unappreciative customers. Her nuanced performance has the audience leaning in, wanting more.
Neema Bickersteth makes some compelling character choices as the truck driver. She is at once vulnerable and tough, her childlike affectation belying a deeper strength – or perhaps pain. This juxtaposition is interesting to watch, and the audience does everything but applaud when this would-be wallflower belts out a Tammy Wynette song with considerable power.
Zoë Sweet brings her bartender to life, balancing her deep-seated need to connect with people with a need to spread her wings and escape the only place she has ever called home. It is easy to relate to the universal feeling of wanting more, but not knowing what lies ahead.
Their stories are woven together through movement and lighting, and the storyline is far from linear. It’s here that the show could still use some polish. The script at times lacks clarity and it is easy to get lost.
Many important questions are asked in the show: How do we connect? Survive? Fly? Find one another? However, few answers are revealed. Perhaps this is what the artists were looking to create, but as an audience member, I would have liked to know more.
André Du Toit’s moody lighting design with its dingy shadows and piercing spotlights helps perpetuate the feeling of unease and isolation of the three women as we follow along on their journeys. Laura Gardner’s minimalist set design and the opening movement sequence of tires on asphalt on a lonely deserted road sets the mood for the rest of the play.
Dead Roads is one of three plays presented as part of the Riser Project, an artist-centric producing model designed to support emerging theatre-makers.
Created by Zoë Sweet, Darwin Lyons, Clare Preuss and Neema Bickersteth, and presented by Why Not Theatre, Dead Roads is playing until April 24 at The Theatre Centre. For more information, visit theatrecentre.org.