The City That Eats You

Wes Babcock

Squirrels at War (Web)

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in to the première of Jayson McDonald’s The City That Eats You. What I got was an impressive script and even cooler premise that combined to treat the audience to an immersive aural exploration of the nature of human relationships and identities.

The show follows a police detective (Meghan Brown), who is part of a cohort of humans who have developed new mental abilities that seem to be spreading like a virus through the population of a large metropolis. She begins searching for Johanna Signal (Val Cotic), a missing person whose importance grows as we discover her proximity to the source of the mysterious outbreak.

The story takes the form of a journey through Johanna’s memories as the detective “tunes” in on important people and events in the missing girl’s life in an attempt to locate her. This descent into memory becomes increasingly fragmented and strange as it proceeds, approaching a vanishing point, or “grey memory” (which I won’t ruin for you), important beyond the comprehension of the detective.

I really liked this script; it is one of the most poetic pieces of theatre I’ve seen in some time. The memories that the characters share are presented in series of vivid and rhythmic descriptions, delivered by Brown and combined with the impressive sound scape, to transport the audience to the conjured experience of place and time in a character’s life. Unfortunately, there are a few moments when the dialogue sounds a bit forced between characters, particularly when it tries to explain the grey memory. This comes at an inopportune moment, but doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience.

The show also suffered occasionally from unimaginative staging. The second scene, for example, is five very long minutes of two people not moving in chairs. I also wished that Brown were more focused on showing us what she was experiencing during the “tuning” scenes. The words and sound are so powerful that this shortfall is more than forgiven, but I would have enjoyed seeing the actors taking a few more opportunities to physically use the space. Furthermore, I felt that Cotic, who does some good work playing several characters throughout the play, could have done a bit more work differentiating between them. This would have taken her performance, and the production as a whole to a new level.

I enjoyed the experience of this show, and with some work on the staging and a few tweaks to the script it could make the transformation from an interesting and occasionally immersive production to become something truly spectacular. As it stood when I saw it Friday night, it was rough, but more than engaging enough to make up for its shortcomings. I am sure that the performances will only improve as the festival goes on, and I hope to check it out again later next week.

 

Upcoming Shows: (Venue #2: Arts Court Library)

June 22 @ 18:30

June 25 @ 19:30

June 27 @ 18:00

June 28 @ 23:00