Director Sarah Baumann is committed to bringing non-local works to Toronto.
NORWAY. TODAY by Igor Bauersima, directed by Sarah Baumann, with Ieva Lucs and Steven McCarthy. Presented by Theatre Smash at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews from Friday (September 5), opens Tuesday (September 9) and runs to September 21, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, previews $15. 416-531-1827. See Opening.
"There's something soul-sucking about the modern world."
Sarah Baumann is talking about the central theme of Norway. Today, the play she's directing that's based on a real-life suicide pact forged in cyberspace. But she could also be referring to a recent setback.
With just days to go before tech rehearsals, she and producer Ashlie Corcoran got some bad news. After months of meticulous preparations, lead actor Marc Bendavid (fresh from a remount of the Fringe hit The Gladstone Variations and That Gay Guy at SummerWorks) informed them that he was dropping out of the show to take a role in Citytv's 19th-century crime drama, Murdoch Mysteries.
"It's a great opportunity for him," says Baumann, "but their shoot directly conflicted with the run of our show."
Baumann bounced back, however, and within 24 hours (during which she admits downing a few stiff drinks) she had recast the role with Steven McCarthy, a logical go-to guy considering that he starred in Theatre Smash's well-received first production, Tiny Dynamite, back in 2006.
Baumann and Corcoran formed Theatre Smash in 2005 with the mandate of bringing new plays from other parts of the world to Toronto. It's this interest in non-local perspectives that led the duo to Swiss playwright Igor Bauersima and his macabre meditations on Internet technology - namely, the chat room.
Based on real events, Norway. Today tells the story of Julie (Ieva Lucs), a young woman who trolls chat rooms looking for someone to commit suicide with her. She finds a willing partner in August (McCarthy) and flies him to Norway, where the two trek to a 600-metre-high cliff, intent on ending it all.
"The interesting thing about this play is that on first read it seems like the characters are only committed to offing themselves, but as you read deeper it becomes a complex love story where they're both fighting for understanding and acceptance from someone."
The show is a two-hander, but Baumann is quick to point out that technology is the third character - in more ways than one.
While the script itself is intensely critical of the role technology plays in modern society, the production sports a number of high-tech elements.
"Video and technology are woven throughout the whole show," Baumann explains, noting that the play will make use of a mix of pre-recorded and live video elements all controlled by a switcher backstage.
"Also, the first part of the play is set in an Internet chat room, with audience members playing the role of lurkers."
During pre-production, Baumann actually struck up an Internet correspondence with Bauersima, who offered her insights into his nuanced script.
She also spearheaded a crash course in existential philosophy during rehearsals to help her actors understand the playwright's ideas about death and personal freedom - a project that might have seemed partly wasted with Bendavid's untimely departure from the show.
"I don't feel like we're starting over," says Baumann optimistically. "I discover something new about this play every day, and all the learning we've done up to now can be transferred to Steven."
And despite anxiety about the Internet in the play, Baumann remains pragmatic.
"I'm still as addicted to e-mail as anyone else."