More than a year into the pandemic, most of us are suffering from screen fatigue. Which might explain the proliferation of audio-based works being mounted lately by many local theatre companies.
Tarragon Theatre has been presenting an acoustic series of plays it’s produced in the past – or hopes to in the future – while Canadian Stage offers up a challenging audio adaptation of frequent NOW contributor José Teodoro’s Cloudless that can be experienced as a series of monologues and as a work that layers in several voices.
But the most satisfying recent audio experience has come from Factory Theatre, whose You Can’t Get There From Here series consists of five commissioned audio dramas that can be streamed for free and enjoyed at home or outdoors.
Each drama is brief – 30 minutes or less – and full of the kind of imaginative, immersive sound design that helps suggest a sense of place. Plus, each piece is set in and around Toronto neighbourhoods or landmarks. Since so many of us have been stuck indoors, this aspect provides some unexpected comfort.
The latest weekly drama to drop, Keith Barker’s Every Minute Of Every Day, takes full advantage of its Toronto setting. Mia (Allison Edwards-Crewe) is a proud city-dweller, and her sister Fran (Marcia Johnson) has come to visit. The two are estranged, and have barely even spoken to each other in years. Presumably we’ll discover why.
Barker, author of the excellent full-length play This Is How We Got Here, quickly establishes the differences between the siblings. When they meet up at the Royal York Hotel, we learn that Fran enjoys hoarding the hotel’s free shampoo and soap, and that she’s on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Mia, meanwhile, would rather walk to the CN Tower than waste money travelling a few blocks in a cab, which is what Fran wants to do.
As the two women visit various landmarks – the CN Tower is their first stop – they reminisce about trips to the SkyDome with their father, the Raptors NBA win, life-changing concerts at Massey Hall and even playing dirty bingo at Zelda’s in Wellesley Village. Some things remain; most have changed. We get brief glimpses of their childhood through impersonations of their sports-loving father and his island accent. And gradually, we understand the significance of this reunion.
Punctuated throughout Barker’s drama are little suggestions that a clock is ticking; Michelle Bensimon’s intriguing sound design creates tension in key moments.
Director Akosua Amo-Adem helps keep the story on track, getting rich, lived-in performances by the two actors. What’s especially satisfying about her direction of this Factory audio drama is how quickly we move from location to location – something that would be difficult to achieve in an actual play. Amo-Adem and her team make full use of the medium, and it adds to the emotional payoff in the final few minutes.
When one character says, almost as a refrain, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” it’s simultaneously a plot point and an acknowledgement of all the things we’ve missed during the past 13 months.