There’s something transcendent about sitting down to watch The Biographer. Stepping off the busy Kensington Market streets and into the world of the play, housed at Videofag, there is a certain permeating suspension of reality. Mismatched chairs border the alley stage, inches of sand cover the ground, and bottles filled with lights and lost notes from loved ones hang from the ceiling. With the hypnotic sound of waves crashing, one could easily lose touch with space and time. But I think that’s the point.
Penned by award-winning playwright and author Daniel Karasik, The Biographer is a meditation on loss and devotion. Franz (Earl Pastko) is a desperate soul with a mysterious criminal past. He is woken on the beach near the grounds of an abandoned carnival by the sound of The Clown (Stewart Arnott) playing the cello. Franz is looking for his daughter, who has been missing for some time, and something has led him to the shore, a place rife with lost girls who may or may not be involved in the sex trade.
From the conversation with The Clown, Franz embarks on a journey whereupon he meets the young and beautiful Delilah (Miriam Fernandes), the eponymous Biographer (Arnott, again), and The Strongman (also Arnott). The play unfolds into an existential quest as Franz faces down his past while attempting to find his daughter. In the end, it is through his interaction with The Biographer that we ask the most intriguing question about fatherhood, love and devotion: what is it to make one’s life out of another person’s life?
What stands out from the first moment of the play are the demands of the space. The narrow, short stage and low-hanging lights, combined with the expansive questions and extreme emotions, make this play feel much larger than the space it is confined to. This tension, to me, always contributes to an air of excitement, though a play must tread carefully. A stage such as this asks for a great degree of stillness and specificity, as every movement, inflection and gesture seems to take up twice the amount of space. The Biographer is mostly successful in this regard, thanks to the precise direction of Alan Dilworth and three solid performances.
Pastko, as Franz, is a demanding presence throughout, towering above everyone else. His facility with the at-times difficult text is inspired, due to an overall thoughtful realization of his character. Fernandes, in the role of Delilah, gives a tender and grounded performance. Her twinkling eyes draw one in, leaving no cause to doubt why she gets attention from every man she meets. And in his many roles, Arnott delivers a steady, driven performance. Throughout the show, he slips seamlessly between characters, each varying only by subtle traits and demeanour. While Pastko drives the play forward, it is Arnott’s deeply focused performances that keep things on track.
The Biographer is valuable in the questions and conversations it asks of the audience. Though at times it is a little repetitious (yep, I understand that he’s looking for his daughter), Karasik’s script envelopes and invites the audience into another world in hopes that, as after a trip to The Biographer’s house, one might leave a little bit changed. – Nick Green
The Biographer runs until Sun, May 19 at Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave. videofag.com