Presented by Monologue Slam Productions
With blurry, half-remembered elements of Survivor, Lord of the Flies and The Tempest swirling about in a kind high-concept theatrical melange; House of Whale dumps a set of five random people onto an island. Where exactly are they? How did they get there? One of them doesn’t even know who she is.
As the plot develops, we meet their mystical counterparts—the native inhabitants of this enchanted island. As our ragtag castaways try to survive and understand their situation, they come into conflict with these original dwellers while ideas of colonialism, capitalism and diplomacy radiate from their interactions.
This collaborative writing effort is very high school Society: Challenge & Change and, in performance, it gives off distinctly Disney Channel vibes. On one level, it all feels very low-stakes with a “yes, and…” sketch comedy aura. Each of these survivors is a type. There’s a marine, a pop star, a guarded tough, a diligent leader and a quirky oddball.
But then there are jarring tonal shifts that suddenly make it all seem very real. In particular, Tara J Paterson, as the amnesiac who eventually discovers her identity (whom they call “Rose” for most of the story), has a powerful moment of realization towards the finale. And L.A. Sweeney, playing Queen Ashanti of the island-dwellers, is a fierce portrait of an intimidating yet vulnerable leader.
My investment in the story ebbed and flowed as the ensemble meandered through a hodgepodge of hokey scenarios and genuinely compelling conflicts. My favourite performer here is Esther Chung as the intrepid comic relief character, Joanne. With her penchant for licking toads, she’s a consistently fascinating and hilarious low-key spectacle. She’s somehow both in her own world yet intensely present at the same time!
The costumes (by Sweeney) and set (by Kadi Badiou and Sydonnae Simon) are undeniably cheesy yet they have a purposeful, evocative charm. For the most part, it’s pretty silly; it has an earnest quality, though, that drew me in. And the finale was unexpectedly stirring. I’m a sucker for “I am Spartacus!” gestures of solidarity; no matter how cloying, they get me every damn time.