Nicholas Billon is quickly becoming a well known name in the Manitoba theatre scene. No, he is not a local writer, but he is a contemporary canadien playwright who is gaining notoriety. In fact, he has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for his collection of three plays titled Fault Lines; one of which is Iceland and is currently playing at the Rachel Brown Theatre under the guiding hands of Theatre Projects Manitoba. We, have a great opportunity to witness and contrast the evolving style of this writer who is leaving an unforgettable mark on the canadien cultural scene.
Theatre Projects Manitoba is establishing a reputation as the theatre company that is quick to take up the current trends of contemporary theatre and attempting to create their own. In presenting Iceland they had to rely on the fact the Manitoba houses more than a few strong actors. Iceland is in form, an ubber minimalist. In fact, it is no more complicated than three characters offering a monologue based on one traumatic event, but in fact each monologue reveals more about who they are and how they came to be these caricatures of people we kind of recognize from our own acquaintances. Iceland is properly casted with Laura Olafson setting the tone with a convincing and sympathetic Kassandra. She starts the play with a lengthy and captivating monologue that must hold our attention with facial and tonal inflections as she barely has any support, is only allowed limited movements and is given no props.
Next up is Omar Alex Khan who embodies a harder to sympathise with character. Nonetheless, Omar delivers his monologue in a way that allows Billon’s black comedy to come out more consistently and more convincingly. Finally, Heather Russell’s quirky take on Anna leaves us unsure of who it is we should be sympathizing with. Iceland moves through 70 minutes of monologues easily and in a way that the audience wants to know more, hear more, understand more. Any text that can do that, any actor who can do that, is an experience in the craft of theatre.
Manitobans have another chance to explore Billon’s work as the Prairie Theatre Exchange is presenting Butcher from Nov. 18 to Dec. 6. This comes after le Cercle Molière opened its 90th season with this same play, presented in French. A second offering of Billon plays by le Cercle Molière as they included La chanson de l’éléphant in the previous season. I mention these, as these Billon plays hold a similar psycho thriller theme that takes the audience through a captivating experience that has great reveal moments that make you question who you sympathize with. They are both haunting plays that have strong similarities and help define Billon’s style as a playwright.
On the other hand, Iceland seems to want to use the same themes but is presented in a very different way. By stripping down to a series of monologues, the elements that define Billon become more apparent. However, they also reveal how we tell a story is important to how we receive and interpret the story. Thus, being able to contrast the two forms of narrative story telling is a rare opportunity; one that Manitoba’s healthy group of theatre aficionados will not want to pass up.
Theatre Projects Manitoba is presenting Iceland until Nov. 15 at the Rachel Brown Theatre. for more information, visit tehatreprojectsmanitoba.ca.