THIS WAS THE WORLD by Ellie Moon (Tarragon). At the Tarragon Extraspace (30 Bridgman). Runs to March 1. $22-$70. 416-531-1827,.
Ellie Moons new play about white fragility is full of incisive moments but needs polishing before it can really shine.
John (R.H. Thomson), a white professor of Indigenous law at an unnamed Canadian university, in an unnamed town, bristles at what he takes as the recent token hire in his department, finally crossing a line when he pressures his student mentee Nimi (Dakota Ray Hebert) to file a formal complaint. As personal stakes and political motives blur, events escalate.
The first half is engaging, revealing the nuances of Johns character and how he vexes the assistant dean (Kim Nelson), and condescends to Nimi. Then his daughter Ava (Rachel VanDuzer) frets to a friend about the rising gossip surrounding a prejudiced remark he made in a recent lecture.
Moons dialogue is lively and authentic, and Thomsons monologues demonstrating Johns genuine (though misguided) distrust of his colleagues offer an insightful but not overly sympathetic window into his world.
But the second half loses focus. At first Moons story seems to be about the impact all this has on Nimi, but in the final scenes the plot swings in unexpected and contrived directions.
The performances are consistently compelling, particularly the heartfelt scenes between Thomson and VanDuzer in which Ava cautions her father, revealing their love for and frustrations with each other. Richard Roses direction is adept, keeping the set sparse and creating space for the story to unfold through the relationships.
Moons play offers many moments of depth and insight, but needs to figure out its core for the story to really resonate.