Mayko Nguyen (left) and Amy Keating bite into three roles each in the hugely ambitious Passion Play.
PASSION PLAY by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Mitchell Cushman, Alan Dilworth and Aaron Willis, with Maev Beaty, Richard Binsley, Katherine Cullen, Sam Kalilieh, Amy Keating, Andrew Kushnir, Cyrus Lane, Mayko Nguyen, Thrasso Petras, Jordan Pettle and Julie Tepperman. Presented by Outside the March/Sheep No Wool/Convergence/Crow’s. Begins at Withrow Park (south of Danforth, east of Logan) and moves to Eastminster United Church (310 Danforth). Previews begin tonight (Thursday, June 6), opens Monday (June 10) and runs to June 30. $25-$30. Tickets and schedule at outsidethemarch.ca.
Arguably, history is about community, the notion of continuity and what holds people together.
That sense of community underlies Sarah Ruhl's epic script, Passion Play, whose three acts are set in Elizabethan England, Hitler's Germany and America during and after the Vietnam War. Each act focuses on the staging of a Passion play, the medieval cycle of dramatic performances enacting Christ's death and resurrection.
The Toronto production, beginning in a park and ending in a church, unites a trio of Toronto's sharpest indie troupes, Convergence Theatre, Outside the March and Sheep No Wool. Directors from the companies (Aaron Willis, Mitchell Cushman and Alan Dilworth) helm one act each.
The 11 cast members have different roles in the three sections, but echoes reverberate from one to another.
"It's an amazing work to take on," says Amy Keating, who plays the village idiot in the first act and a character named Violet in the other two. "With anywhere from 15 to 30 people in a rehearsal, we've developed a sense of creativity and a cooperative spirit that's different from anything else I've experienced in my professional career."
Though the preparation process began as a trio of unrelated rehearsals, the trick for the directors now is to blend the three into one, an echo of the Trinity that's not lost on the company. Those connections include not only textual repetitions but also visual imagery that travels from one act to the next.
Mayko Nguyen, for instance, plays Mary 1, who takes on the role of the Virgin in each of the sections. But while the mother of Christ has a fixed character, the Mary playing her is not so easily defined.
"Mary 1 has a dual nature in every act. There's the one she presents to the world, which is very much in keeping with the humble and pure Biblical figure. But then there's her more animal, raw and visceral self, the complete opposite of what the Virgin should be.
"My job is to try to reconcile these two struggling natures," explains the actor, who recently appeared in carried away on the crest of a wave and is a regular on CBC's Cracked. "By the third act, she's more than ever caught between living by the code established by her community and her desire to explore her inner nature, which is at odds with the standards of those around her."
Keating's characters - it's no coincidence that the first two letters in Violet's name could be an acronym for village idiot - are all social outsiders.
"In every era, one of her main objectives is to tell the truth, even if others don't want to hear it," offers Keating, a Dora nominee for Outside the March's Mr. Marmalade. "She knows instinctively what's right and is guileless in presenting that truth, even, in the second act, as the only Jew in Oberammergau on the 300th anniversary of that city's Passion play.
"Unlike Mary 1, she has no masks; she says exactly what she means, even if she gets into trouble for doing so."
At the play's centre, both actors agree, is the intersection between who these people are within their community and the roles they take on in the Passion play.
"Ruhl's script has a multi-layered quality, the sense of a play within a play within a play," smiles Keating.
"And as one of our directors says," adds Nguyen, "when the play and the people within it meet, the whole thing comes together."