If there truly is an evil that dwells within us, Judith Thompson’s emotionally dark Lion In The Streets is the looking glass to our nightmares. The University Players production, which opened this weekend at the Hatch Studio Theatre, tells a deep and depressing tale of a little Portuguese girl named Isobel (played effortlessly by Abby Weisbroit) who struggles to find her way to salvation and deals with her death 17 years ago. But it’s not your typical ghost story – it’s more of an inside look into the dark, emotional, and private lives of strangers who are trapped, threatened, and fighting for their own survival.
The play is episodic, with scenes playing along as Isobel wanders from place to place on her journey “home”. She could be watching one in someone’s living room and then follows one of the people to a different place as another scene unfolds. The 27 other characters in the play were split between five other actors, including a phenomenal performance by Arielle Zamora as the wheel-chair bound Scarlett, who reveals her deepest sexual fantasies and a disturbing mini-striptease by Meghan Fowler, who, as Sue, tries to win back her cheating husband.
It’s easy to see why the students in the School of Dramatic Art voted it the work they most wanted to present this season. It’s unusual and emotional, and for the handful of actors involved, it would certainly be a challenge to perform. There isn’t a character on stage who has a happy life and the amount of effort needed to perform those deepest inner shadows, would be tremendous. Even poor Isobel, who somehow came to terms with her death easy enough, struggles through this journey fearing the “lion” who follows her in a most dangerous and eerie way. Weisbrot was the perfect catalyst for the whole thing.
After more than a quarter century after it first premiered in Toronto, Thompson’s dark romp into the afterlife is just as dark, grotesque and no holds barred as it was in the 1990. It still shocks and rips with such non-conversation pieces as rape, molestation, murder, sexuality and disability.
If you’re looking for a fun night out, this isn’t it. Get ready to hear some of the deepest and darkest secrets this side of Toronto. If you’re strong enough, the darkness is also a great place for your own personal therapy.