This production of Alex Dault’s play, The Five Points, premieres in the handsome Mady Centre, on a corner of The Five Points, a series of intersecting streets in downtown Barrie, Ontario. Dault created the drama from hundreds of interviews, gathered by him, and by those who perform in the show. Walking mostly about The Five Points in the dead of winter, the theatre artists asked pedestrians questions like, “What do you like about Barrie?” or “What don’t you like about Barrie?” They made recordings of what the people said.
The idea for the work sprang from a local event in which someone placed a sign on a building front, “What happened to Barrie?” The sign was hung on a wire gate intended to block a space where a homeless person had slept, seeking shelter, a niche to call home. Blocking this space off triggered other events, and inspired the writing of the play.
Out of all collected transcripts springs The Five Points. The play is a mix of actors demonstrating how they got the interviews fresh off the street. This process is combined with scenes of the characters, going about their lives. The set is mostly stark, a white metal bench placed under overhanging traffic lights. The actors are also integral to the set, using simple props like rope to show the outline of buildings, or their own bodies to create a car. They move so quickly and nimbly about the stage, they form a tapestry of action.
I have seen a number of “documentary plays”, based on interviews with “real people”. Most are dreadful because their intent is to “educate” the public or correct some social injustice. Usually, these docudramas confront the audience, and demand they do something about the problem or at least feel guilty if they don’t. Sitting through one is often a cross between going to the dentist while suffering through a tedious sermon.
The Five Points is, thankfully, nothing like that. It’s a cavalcade of characters and hugely entertaining. The play moves along at a clip, and is often screamingly hilarious. But it also has more somber moments. Holding up a mirror to the citizens of Barrie, it invites discussion as well as self-examination. Alex Dault is too good a playwright to preach, and he’s too wise to supply easy answers. Fortunately, he knows how to write a play that works.
Dault is fortunate in his cast. All the actors are quite wonderful. But I must single out Iain Moggach, who is given a plum of a speech at the end, and he delivers the heart of the work with astonishing skill. Joshua Doerksen’s soundscape is masterful, as always.
The city is in part shaped by geography and weather. In winter, Barrie is pelted by horrendous snowstorms. In summer, it’s heaven on earth, situated on beautiful Kempenfelt Bay. Once a small town, Barrie has grown enormously in the past few years. The citizens are proud of its expansion. But new wealth has brought problems like soaring rents, too many condos, and the homeless. Sadly, many of the homeless drift about, victims of mental issues. There is a growing drug culture, too, which flows from the top down and the bottom up, and seeds the problems of urban living.
The people of Barrie cling to the memory of the place in simpler times. But all they have to do is look around and see how things are not as they were.
Today, the city sits at a crossroads, and you can see it at The Five Points. Right in the middle of The Five Points sits the handsome Mady Centre, but from the windows, one can see drug dealers wandering the streets. (I know because drug dealers do actually dress like dealers, the same as in my neighborhood in Toronto.) And then, a block away is Kempenfelt Bay, where the affluent park their pleasure boats, enjoy a beer, and entertain their guests.
We live in a world where we can now communicate instantly, at every hour. And yet, what we see happening in our cities is the growth of personal isolation; the unravelling of any concept of “neighbourhood” and “community”. With a deft hand, Alex Dault’s play reminds us that behind all the new buildings, and urban planning, a city must be a community, a gathering place, held together by intertwining stories. The veins and arteries must all connect, or the body does not truly live.
One last note: I’d just like to say that this kind of drama competes very well with the quality of plays in Toronto, and I hope those in Barrie understand that this level of theatrical enterprise contributes heavily to the tourism. The productions by Theatre by the Bay offer a level of sophistication available in big cities, and it’s nice to see Barrie investing in this valuable resource. Also, I believe this production would be understood in any town or city. It’s specific to Barrie, but it’s such a human tale, and so universal, any audience would identify with it.
The Creative Team:
Alex Dault – Director; Beth Elliot – Production Manager / Technical Director; Rosalind Naccarato – APM; Kathleen Hemsworth – Stage Manager; Julia Duiella – ASM ; Composer / Sound Designer: Joshua Doerksen; Composing Musicians: Corey Dzula, Zach Franchetto, James Laxton, Brandon Davenport; Script Supervisor / Dramaturge / Choreographer: Brandon Crone ;Lighting Designer: Melissa Joakim; Set Designer: Joe Pagnan ;Costume Designer: Abigail Kennedy; Props Master: Vera Oleynikova; Fight Director: Jonathan Langley
Assistant Director & Ensemble: Chloe Payne
Ensemble (Actors): Iain Moggach, Thomas Williams, Bilal Baig, Joanna Keats, Victoria Urquhart, Alexandra Simpson, Holly Wyder, Sarah Bransfield, Andrew Cameron, Chloe Payne
© by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.