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DAS DING (THE THING) by Philipp Lohle (Theatre Smash/Canadian Stage). At the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to May.
Love and commerce make the world go round in German playwright Philipp Lohles Das Ding (The Thing), an inventive satire scrutinizing the effects of desire and money in various countries.
Birgit Schreyer Duartes translation for this Theatre Smash/Canadian Stage production moves the action to Canada as well as Africa, China, Japan, Sweden and Romania. Its smartly directed by Ashlie Corcoran.
The title character, always in front of us, is a huge cotton ball wittily designed by Drew Facey and voiced by the energetic five-member cast, who also play the other characters: married Canadian couple Thomas (Kristopher Bowman) and Katherine (Lisa Karen Cox) her brother, Patrick, lauded for his photography (Philip Nozuka) Guy, a Quebec aid worker encouraging non-GMO agriculture in Africa (Qasim Khan) Siwa, an African farmer (Naomi Wright) and two enterprising Chinese businessmen (Khan and Bowman).
Its The Thing that connects them all together as it travels globally in various forms, notably as a soccer jersey, while Lohle cleverly traces the rise and fall of these characters fortunes in love and wealth.
The money theme is set up in a comically barbed prologue featuring the explorer Magellan (Wright) and the king of Portugal (Khan). Then we meet the nicely drawn contemporary figures. Wright stands out as a series of pretentious interviewers trying to pry from the innocent Patrick the secret of a famous photo, while Khan has a great mime scene in which he simultaneously plays two characters involved in an arms deal.
The weaving of The Thing into the jersey is another shrewdly staged highlight, and in fact the plays scenes are woven together as seamlessly as that shirt.
We never forget The Thing, not only because it constantly shares its experiences with us, but also because it ties all the stories together. That knitting leads to an unexpected cats cradle of a plot that, while sometimes complicated, somehow never knots but slides apart simply and elegantly by the tales end.
The production design is as strong as the other elements, with contributions by Nick Andison and Graeme Thomson (lighting), Jung-Hye Kim (costumes), John Gzowski (sound) and Denyse Karn (projections). They help give texture to The Thing (both the play and the character), from its simple birth on a bush to its eventual and satisfying return home after its long journey.