It’s a lovely sort of discomforting feeling you get when art like this does its job.
Written by Alice Abracen, directed by Ann Lambert and Laura Mitchell, and designed by Danielle Szydlowski (cheers to an all-female production team), “The Guest” is a play for the here and now (oh, yes, the production company is called “Right Now!”). Unfolding over a single evening, two humans from different parts of the world attempt to grapple with the multitudinous invisible forces pulling their identities in oppositional directions. A single, female, Jewish, Canadian tourist and a married, Middle Eastern, Yazidi* father and tour guide share, listen, fight, and argue with each other while occupying sacred historical grounds marked for destruction by ISIS. As the clock begins to tick louder and faster, so too do their arguments grow in fervour, entrancing the audience within this ideological debate.
Let me begin by saying that I am not qualified to adequately speak to the political underpinnings of this play – what I am here to do is elucidate the ways in which the play animates arguments Canadians ought to be having.
What begins as a lighthearted comedy slowly becomes something more grave as the so-called guest (Laura Mitchell, hilarious and heart-wrenching) makes it clear to her tour guide (Yousef Kadoura, a perfect foil in his rigidity and stoicism) that she has no intention of leaving the sacred grounds he has brought her to. This is a place with history dating back eight-thousand years, a place of constant uprisings and invasions, of strife and pain but also resilience and beauty.
But whereas Mitchell’s appreciative tourist sees mosaics, Kadoura’s realist native sees rocks. It is an interesting dichotomy that the script raises, where the tourist is more enamoured with the culture and beauty of a place than its own tour guide, because of the questions it brings: in what ways are we tied to our land? What part does religion play in these connections, and what are the benefits and detriments of those ties?
For Kadoura, his character is a father – it is therefore more important for him to go back to his family and get them out of danger, leaving this sacred place to be desecrated. For Mitchell, however, her widow has no familial connections, and is also presciently aware of her own white privilege: white people, she says, are objectively seen as more important and therefore have a “moral obligation to step in and save people”, which is what she is here to do. It is a stunning moment in the play because of its relevance – indeed, I don’t find it a coincidence that many people started shifting in their seats – and because of how many more questions it raises. What parts do our familial relationships play in the unfolding of this narrative? If Kadoura’s character had no family, would he have an obligation to defend the lands of his religion? It is a terrific thing for the mind to begin racing while watching theatre. This is thought-provoking work, plain and simple.
Thankfully, the script is supported by a terrific team of actors, designers and directors. Again, Mitchell is a delight in the role, bringing a quirky exuberance to a character that is simultaneously weighed down by her knowledge and guilt. On the flip side of the coin, Kadoura’s all-business tour guide is allowed fleeting moments of playfulness and emotional vulnerability that he handles with grace and sincerity. While their rapport begins to wear thin around the one-hour-mark, this can be chalked up to pacing problems. In their handlings of the material, however, they are intelligent and deft.
Honestly, not much can be said about the design. It is a simple set with minimal lighting and a lack of obfuscation, all the better to hear those pressingly important words. What we’re left with is two people, a place full of memory, and their conflicting views. The rest is history.
*I could find no reference to the character’s religion elsewhere aside from his dialogue, this is how I heard him pronounce it – if this is a mistake, please contact me and I will have it changed.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Andrew Sawyer
Right Now! presents “The Guest”
When: June 10 – 18, 2017
Where: Studio Multimédia du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri-Julien
Duration: 75 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival