Infinithéâtre dishes up this brave new work offering a front seat at the table to witness a family on a collision course taut with dark humour confronting race, religion, class and gender.
A brief interview with director Guy Sprung: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUidyG9Fcy8
Playwright Alyson Grant’s brief thoughts on judgmental attitudes: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJia30dgvjo
Alyson Grant, writer of past Infinithéâtre hit shows Progress! and Trench Patterns, returns with her searing new play, Conversion. Never one to shy away from both current and meaty subject matter, Grant now tackles the power of words and labels with her usual bite and poignancy, exploring ideas of entitlement, prejudices, inadequacy, status and family. Directed by Infinithéâtre Artistic Director Guy Sprung, Conversion runs from February 6-25 at Espace Knox, a multidisciplinary artist-run space aptly housed in the converted sanctuary of a former church. Conversion will be shown with French surtitles twice a week. Post-show Artist Talks with invited guests are on Thursdays, otherwise plan to go out for tea/coffee/drinks after the show- there will be plenty of fodder for conversation. Warning- contains expected family infighting over strong, opinionated views (Rolaids not provided).
Conversion, a ferocious, hyper-realistic powerhouse, offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of four family members. Abi and Al, a young mixed-race couple, host a dinner party plagued by Abi’s mother Mary spewing her polarizing, destructiveness of bigotry and religious intolerance. It is meant to be a straightforward celebratory supper, but familiar patter and patterns quickly devolve into a collision course of identities—race, class, gender and religion. This is the night that secrets explode and the bonds of love and blood get twisted and tested. Imagine Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on steroids and Guess Who’s Coming to (ruin) Dinner… with no one left to sacrifice by the time the lamb is served.
Director Guy Sprung was drawn to this contemporary Montréal tragedy dressed in dark wit disguised as a family imbroglio. He explains, “In Conversion, faith, family and love are in a fight to the finish with metaphoric overtones and universal relevance, exposing the limitations of each one. It forces us all to question the values we live by. Alyson’s wondrously rich creation demands crafted, detailed, internalized character depiction. Importantly, we need the guts to explore the reality of the characters and allow them to live on stage, exposing our failings as human beings.”
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”– Martin Luther King
Blind bigotry of all kinds is everywhere; think Syria, London Bridge, Québec City, Charlottetown and the list goes on. Here, Mary, played by Montréal stalwart Diana Fajrajsl in a role written specifically for her, pounces for the ‘good’ of the one she loves, and corrosive attacks on this young interracial marriage instantly trigger an internal debate about our own propensities for racism. Have we sided with a piece of legislation that has lurking in it some version of that? Grant’s writing, so lucid and genuine, makes it clear to audiences that they’ve been given a heightened peek into the closet dynamics taking place in many dining rooms throughout the city and beyond.
Fajrajsl is most taken by themes of fear and courage in the piece, “Fear of the other, fear of oneself and what one is capable of, fear of the present, and fear of the future.” She continues, “Tribalism is on the upsurge along with a huge amount of fear-mongering. People’s knee-jerk biases are being catered to by a more and more sensationalist press.”
For playwright Alyson Grant, Conversion started as a way to understand some of the lines that people, who would otherwise consider themselves as liberal, are drawing. “I wanted to get at an ugliness that may not be so obvious and might even surprise us when it surfaces. I hope the humour resonates in such a way as to both offset and complicate the serious themes,” she said. Grant adds, “The action is intentionally exaggerated to get at some dynamics that can be elusive; it’s condensed and in your face. The characters are flawed, but they are human and searching and a bit lost—all in a fun family dinner!”
For set and costumes, designer Emily Soussana incorporates the jewel-tones and geometric designs of places of worship, as well as integrating the architecture of Espace Knox’s previous church incarnation. Lighting designer Andrew Scriver works with shadows and candle light to create mood. Sound design is by Devon Bate and Kate Hagemeyer is the stage manager.
To encourage dialogue, Infinithéâtre will hold moderated talkbacks with invited guests after performances on Thursday Feb. 15 and 22. The panel includes Ehab Lotayef, a human rights activist and advocate against Islamophobia, and Rabbi Reuben Poupko, from Beth Israel Beth Aaron Synagogue, along with the playwright, director and cast.
Sprung likens premiering a new play to the birth of a child and adds, “I thank Alyson for again allowing Infinithéâtre to bring a significant work to life. Ms Grant’s versatility is astonishing; she is one of Québec’s great writers.” Along with cast members Diana Fajrajsl, Timothy Hine, Mike Payette and Denise Watt, audiences will relish having a seat at this theatrical feast.
“And we created you into different nations and different tribes so that you may get to know one another.”– The Quran
February 6-25; previews Feb. 6 & 7; opening night Thurs. Feb. 8
Tuesday – Saturday, 8:00pm, Sunday matinée at 2:00pm
At Espace Knox, 6215 Godfrey Ave. in NDG
Tickets: $23-$30; all Sunday matinées are Pay What You Decide
Love Hurts Valentine’s Day Special: Feb. 13 and 14, 2 tickets for $45 (tax included)
French surtitles on Tuesdays and Fridays
Post-show Artist Talk with invited guest panel on Thurs. Feb. 15 & 22