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  • Ecopus Tyrannus
  • Jennifer Wise (bio)
The Eco Show, written and directed by Daniel Brooks, Necessary Angel Theatre Company at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, 13 May–1 June 2008

With the exception of the multi-million dollar heavyweights like Richard Wagner's Ring (Canadian Opera Company) and Robert Lepage's Lipsynch (Luminato), Daniel Brooks' The Eco Show was without any serious competition the best thing I've seen on any Toronto stage in a decade. Amazingly, the only review this production seems to have received was from NOW Magazine's Jon "NNN" Kaplan, who disgraced himself and Toronto theatre criticism generally by mewling, like a lazy undergraduate who'd rather watch TV than, like, read The Iliad, that he found the play "hard to relate to" (Kaplan). So much the worse for him. The play is a masterpiece. Too bad that companies keen to produce it (and there will be many) are not likely to be able to duplicate the perfection of this expertly directed, cunningly designed, and flawlessly acted production.

The play is a grief-struck threnody for a ruined family and a poisoned world. It's also an excruciatingly honest (and at times hilarious) analysis of how hard it is to be green in the information age. With "google" recently voted the most important word of the century, and with "green" a close runner-up (Harris), the question posed by Brooks in The Eco Show might arguably be the most pressing of the millennium thus far: how can we possibly live with ourselves when "we know" that every time we turn on the air-conditioning a polar bear drowns? Overwhelmed by information (or pseudo-information) about the global effects of even our most private actions, we are heartsick and terrified and desperate to change. But can we? And how? If we went into the theatre smugly assuming that it's all about filling our blue boxes and lowering our thermostats, The Eco Show disabuses us of this deadly complacency.

In designer Julie Fox's unadorned, postmodern cubicle of a living room, a nuclear family tries to live some semblance of middle-class life under conditions of an unnamed environmental catastrophe. The scene is the near future, but only ostensibly. The milieu of this play, dramatically speaking, is Family Life as We Know It Today, with its constant anxieties about dwindling resources, degraded environments, and ecological collapse. Two empty doorways lead off to unseen parts of the house—to the children's bedrooms, to their grandfather's sickroom, and to an un-cosy kitchen where water is strictly rationed and porridge is the only food. Under Andrea Lundy's unnervingly shadowy lighting, the family's quotidian struggle becomes a kind of German-Expressionist Simpsons episode, a dystopian Father Knows Best as directed by Robert Wilson from a script by David Suzuki.

At the centre of the room sits the father, Hamm (Richard Clarkin), a master straight out of Beckett who writes texts with such titles as The Death of Everything. Paralyzed from the waist down and enthroned in a wheelchair, he holds domestic court for most of the play behind his computer, source of an endless stream of guilt-inducing data about the coming Eco-Armageddon. As Hamm reads, writes, clicks, and wallows [End Page 86] in pessimism, Brooks drives Hamm's wife and two children back and forth across the stage, casting huge inky shadows like restless, freaked-out shades in the land of the dead. The mother, Gwen (Fiona Highet), serves within this environmental Endgame as Clov, the slave who can't sit down. She barely ever ceases performing a non-stop series of miserable chores, many involving the bedpans and catheters of Hamm's dying father. Hamm and Gwen's traumatized children try to avoid the fallout; mostly they just want to get back to their rooms.

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(l-r) Richard Clarkin, Jenny Young and Joe Cobden in the workshop production at Theatre Passe Muraille, directed by Chris Abraham and Daniel Brooks.

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann (courtesy of Necessary Angel Theatre)

In one of his oppressively edifying lectures, Hamm explains to his teenaged son Joe (Joe Cobden) that...


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pp. 86-89
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