A brief glimpse at a backstage moment establishes that a fill-in actor is causing tension in this company, but the remainder of the first act of Colleen Wagner’s Armadillos, presented by Factory Theatre, is the play these actors are performing: a vaguely modernized, high-concept production of The Marriage of Thetis and Peleus. The aesthetic declares itself as Theatre.
Trevor Schwellnus’ set for this play within a play is a cool wall of transparent, irregular coils broken up by white archways, given magical and imposing dimension as the light dances through it. Jawon Kang’s costumes depict these deities as contemporary aristocrats, elegant and severe, yet hinting at an expansive mythos.
Zeus (Ryan Hollyman) is an arrogant, though ultimately pathetic, male god trying to court the very young goddess, Thetis (Mirabella Sundar Singh), in the hope of securing the allegiance of her mother, Gaia, the creator of all life. Zeus and his brotherhood of male gods have seized control and are, well, securing the patriarchy. His sister-wife, Hera (Zorana Sadiq), is not too pleased about this subjugation of female agency and influence, though she tries to find solace in the idea that “it’s temporary.”
Thrown into the works (by a Hera’s desperate plan) is a goofy, awkward mortal hero, Peleus—a very funny Paolo Santalucia. My favourite scene in this first act is between him and Singh—as his fumbling, endearing attempts at a manly facade and her quiet dignity make for a funny, charged dynamic as a courtship gradually becomes a kidnapping.
I’m also very fond of the campy sound and lighting cue that marked all of Thetis’s exits. Theatrically suggesting some ominous purpose in her, they come off quite deliberately silly in a way that really delighted me.
For the most part, this reworked Greek drama that unfolds feels stale and I held my breath for the second act reveals to generate some real drama. In concept, it delivers, I guess. Hera removing her blond wig and becoming Sofia (Sadiq) at the top of the scene is a small yet potent indication that our perspective has shifted. We then meet Karmyne (Singh), Dyrk (Santalucia) and Jay (Hollyman). In their fraught dynamic and moments of connection, there are echoes of the fictional drama they are performing. The highly mannered aesthetic is dropped and there are also some pointed contrasts with their onstage personas.
The feminist story positions itself around ideas of rape, power, agency and intent; it’s clever and confident, but the execution is somewhat hollow. In life, of course, people discuss philosophy, relationships, control, gendered experience, the intriguing way art and life shape each other; but the character interactions here feel like posturing—the playwright’s ideas transposed into talking points. As piece of theatre, it emphatically states its artistic intentions with style, but I didn’t really care about any of these people.
A fan of backstage farces like Noises Off!, I have to confess that my favourite part in the whole of Armadillos (writing, performance and Jani Lauzon’s direction) was the eventual revisitation of The Marriage of Thetis and Peleus in which the actors’ personal issues tear at the fabric of the story and it devolves into hilarious, charged, empowering spectacle. Honestly, it was the only time I felt any real urgency and momentum.