No country is an island – not even Iceland. In his latest play, Nicolas Billon aims to show how a far-off event like a banking crisis in Reykjavik can affect people in Estonia, Pakistan and Canada – not just financially, but on a deeply personal level.
Iceland is one of three plays Billon has named after an island nation – Greenland and Faroe Islands are the others – and his interest in isolated circumstances that prove not to be extends to his dramaturgy. In this case, he’s penned three monologues for three characters, told in a merry-go-round, until they collide.
First off is Kassandra (Lauren Vandenbrook), an Estonian woman who has come to Toronto to study history and find a man to marry. To support herself – and help pay off her twin brother’s gambling debt back home – she’s become an escort.
Next up is Halim, a Pakistani-Canadian who, even though “we don’t like to use the c-word here in Canada,” nevertheless introduces himself to the audience as “a capitalist.” He makes the cash he carries around in his money clip by flipping real estate in Toronto. (The problem with wallets, he notes, is that people can’t see what’s in them.)
Finally, there’s Anna, a Christian from rural Ontario who is on two quixotic missions – to stop her fellow Torontonians from blaspheming in public, and to find an affordable condo downtown. She is afflicted with a case of renter’s rage, having become slightly unhinged since being evicted from her apartment in the Liberty Village neighbourhood by a new owner.
These three plotlines comes together when Halim decides to mix business with pleasure – or, as he’d no doubt prefer to phrase it, business with business.
Iceland – which does eventually figure in the plot – was a hit at the SummerWorks Festival last summer; it was quick, clever thinking by Factory Theatre’s new artistic team to import it into their season after the theatre’s original programming fell apart.
Director Ravi Jain’s simple, controlled production – featuring three actors, three chairs and a couple of simple, shocking props – may look slightly adrift on a bigger stage, but the performances eventually hook you and reel you in.
As Kassandra, newcomer Vandenbrook is the least successful at seducing the audience – she speaks directly to us, but still seems stuck behind an invisible wall. She does, however, have an earthy, no-nonsense quality that makes you believe she has both a brain and the bravura to use her body to pay the bills. (The character was less believable, but more riveting, when played by Christine Horne in the summer.)
Clare Calnan, meanwhile, is compelling as a slightly disturbed religious woman who is nevertheless relatable in her addiction to Twitter and online real-estate listings.
Kawa Ada steals the show as Halim, however – with his confident grin and splayed crotch, one of those Mamettian, Mammon-worshipping characters you love to hate. Indeed, Billon seems worried that his audience will love Halim too much – or is perhaps worried that he loves him too much – and so gradually makes his monologue more and more gratuitously offensive. This is the only serious misstep in the script, and it doesn’t succeed in dousing Ada’s charisma – he’s still the life of the party.
Iceland features the strongest storytelling from Billon yet – an intelligent, gripping tale that cleverly taps into the housing boom and bubble anxieties of Torontonians.