THE DEATH OF THE KING by Bahram Beyzaie (Modern Times/Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen West). Runs to April 10. $15-$25. 416-538-0988,.
Bahram Beyzaies The Death Of The King is a murder mystery, a dissection of family relationships and a musing about haves and have-nots, all rolled into one splendid production.
It opens with a light on a sumptuously robed dead body wearing a gold mask, a crown resting on the torso. Behind the body, a miller (Ron Kennell), his wife (Jani Lauzon) and daughter (Bahareh Yaraghi) are threatened by a military commander (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio), his corporal (Sean Baek) and a private (Colin Doyle), as a priest (Steven Bush) intones a prayer over the body.
Accused of the rulers murder, the family offer their defence through storytelling, recounting what happened when the ruler, fleeing from his own men, approached their broken-down mill. Each takes on the role of the king at some point and also shifts to become other family members, offering different versions of the confrontation.
What seems obvious at first soon develops into multiple versions of the truth, and heres where the script and director Soheil Parsas razor-sharp staging blossom into an arresting show, played out on and around scenographer Trevor Schwellnuss central black millstone disc. Thomas Ryder Paynes suggestive sound design and Teresa Przybylskis costumes help to set mood, with Schwellnuss lighting shifting us from one time frame and viewpoint to another.
The chameleon-like trio at the centre of the tale are excellent: Kennell as the fearful miller, wanting but unable to take revenge on this ruler whos subjugated his people Lauzon as the angry, sarcastic woman who really runs this family and who lost a son who became a soldier Yaraghi as the passionate child who goes mad before morphing into a compelling monarch.
The kings followers are less richly drawn, though the performers make strong impressions as types and slowly reveal their doubts about what actually happened at the mill.
Parsas direction builds the narrative from one emotional climax to the next, never allowing the audience to sit back and relax. Ironically, we not only sympathize with the downtrodden family but also at times with the beleaguered king, whose nation is under attack from invaders and who bemoans the stress of wearing his kingdoms crown.
As it takes more twists and turns (no spoilers here) and as strands of possible truth interweave with potential lies, the production becomes richer and richer. Flashes of dark comedy occasionally relieve a tense situation made even more stressful by the impending invasion.
The Death Of The King is magical, compelling theatre.