Review: C-O-N-T-A-C-T is a gentle way back to live in-person theatre

Performed in two crowded spaces in downtown Toronto, this distanced outdoor show confronts grief and loneliness during the pandemic

C-O-N-T-A-C-T conceived and directed by Samuel Sené from an original idea by Gabrielle Jourdain (Toronto by Downtown Yonge BIA). Running to August 8 at College Park or Yonge & Dundas. $49-$147. Rating: NNN

During the last 15 months, most of us have been stuck at home, our only company Zoom calls, streaming services and an endless looping inner voice obsessing over health concerns, global fears and existential dread.

Now a new show – the first outdoor “theatre” available to Torontonians since August 2020 – taps into some of those anxieties. While C-O-N-T-A-C-T isn’t the most gripping drama, its distanced, outdoor presentation provides a first step in returning us back to some kind of normalcy.

The 50-minute show takes place several times a day in one of two downtown areas: Yonge and Dundas and College Park. After meeting at a designated spot, you’ll be instructed to log into an app (you’ll need a smartphone) and then put on your own headphones. This is when the fun begins. You’re told to follow a woman, but… where is she? While listening to the evocative 3D soundscape of street noises – competing with the actual sounds of the cityscape around you – you’ll be on the lookout for her.

The landscapers pruning trees at a nearby condo probably aren’t part of the show, but what about that woman in the suit coming towards us? No.

Finally an anxious young woman in a jean jacket and summer dress passes by. Through the pre-recorded audio we have access to her fleeting thoughts about a song she can’t get out of her head and the growling sounds emanating from her stomach. And then there’s something she’s avoiding, something she’s not quite ready to confront.

Soon she (her name turns out to be Sarah) is joined by a man who sits too close to her and seems to know an awful lot about her life. Who is he? And what’s his connection to her?

As we follow the two around the newly renovated College Park grounds, we get closer to what’s disturbing her, why she’s restlessly wandering around this park.

While the revelations aren’t very artful or profound, and some of the language (“council house”) clearly meant for those in the UK – Quentin Bruno translated Eric Chantelauze’s original French – the production does force you to take in your surroundings. When the pair talk about coffee, it’s nice to be able to look at a nearby cafe, where curious onlookers sip their lattes. While Sarah finally confronts her demons, you might find yourself thinking of the others who haven’t done the same.

The two actors (played by Autumn-Joy Dames and Robert Yeretch at College Park, and Charlotte Knight and Robbie Towns at Yonge & Dundas) capably mime their movements; they don’t speak themselves. The dialogue is all pre-recorded (by UK actors Aoife Kennan and Richard Heap), and sometimes the audio cuts out, creating a strange, stuttering effect.

The result means there’s occasionally a disconnect between what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing. C-O-N-T-A-C-T – the hyphens in the title perhaps suggesting the distance between people during the pandemic – works best in its simple moments.

Near the end, Sarah assumes a position of vulnerability and need that we all recognize. It’s a powerful image that doesn’t need words – or even sound – to evoke a emotional response.


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