AJAX and LITTLE ILIAD created and performed by Evan Webber and Frank Cox-O’Connell (World Stage/Harbourfront Centre). At the Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Friday (April 6) at 6 and 8 pm, Saturday (April 7) at 4 and 8 pm, Sunday (April 8) at 2 and 4 pm. $35, some discounts. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN
Who knew a Skype conversation paired with a fanciful trip back to classical Athens could be so thoughtful and dramatic?
In the hands of creator/performers Frank Cox-O'Connell (direction) and Evan Webber (text), the links between Greek theatre and warfare shed light on our human need for community.
The evening's first half, Little Iliad, is a conversation between two friends who've grown apart since childhood. Evan (Webber) is a theatre artist, Thom (Cox-O'Connell) has gone into the military and is about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Thom wants Evan's thoughts on Sophocles's Philoctetes, a play about the Trojan War that questions, at one level, why people engage in warfare.
Used by the American military as a way of dealing with post-combat fatigue and distress disorders, Philoctetes takes another form in Evan's hands: in asking Thom to play with him as the two perform the story's central roles, he subtly suggests that Thom reconsider his future. With a touch of humour and a sense of the tension between the two men, Little Iliad asks on both a personal and philosophical level if people are able to change.
The staging is as involving as the material. The small audience of 34 sits on the stage of the Enwave Theatre listening to the dialogue through headphones; Webber performs live, but Cox-O'Connell is a video projection (designed by Pierre-Antoine Lafon Simard) cleverly cast on various pieces of clay. Trevor Schwellnus's lighting adds a fine element of shadow-play to the production.
Sitting in the audience, we're the eavesdroppers on Little Iliad's private conversation; the perspective is turned around, as is the use of the venue, in Ajax. Here viewers become part of the production - don't worry, there's no major audience involvement - and Cox-O'Connell and Webber become the audience, fifth-century B.C. Greek soldiers who've come to see their general Sophocles's play Ajax, in which a Greek general at Troy goes destructively mad when denied what he thinks is his rightful war booty.
The style here is broad comedy, complete with hoary jokes, despite a nod to war's devastation. There's also some humour at the expense of theatrical conventions and theatre in general, as well as thoughts on the nature of dramatic "reality" and how it affects an audience. You can look at the piece, in fact, as an attempt to put into practice the "theatre of war" therapeutic principles mentioned in Little Iliad.
As in the earlier piece, the production uses clay figures, handled by sound designer Chris Stanton, who also acts as stage manager of the play-within-a-play.
You'll walk out of this unconventional, thoughtful production pondering theatrical conventions and the linked perspectives of artist and audience.