Arts Theatre

The Laws of Thermodynamics is the end of the world as we know it

Gassin’ up at the end of all things // Dave Degagné
Gassin’ up at the end of all things // Dave Degagné

As a species, we seem to have a fascination with endings, most particularly our own: Google “The end of the world,” and up come more than two billion results, a mix of Biblical end-days, parody videos, scientific worries and other bleak musings. While the level of seriousness it all gets treated with might vary—look at the prevalence of the zombie apocalypse in popular culture today—it seems like everybody’s mind wanders there eventually.

“I think it’s because we can’t answer it,” Heather Inglis ponders. “We all know that we have a limited amount of time; I’m interested in the notion that perhaps the ongoing theories of apocalypse are really about a projection of our own knowledge that we will end. And we project it onto the world, because if we end, then the world does, in fact, end.”

The director’s seated in the Workshop West offices, adjacent to playwright Cat Walsh, whose black-comedy script The Laws of Thermodynamics picks up just three days before the end of the world. It finds a journalist on the road, searching for his family, when his car breaks down outside the town of Crumb (population: three). As he tries to get back to his search—time is, y’know, pressing—he finds that trio of residents less than helpful in the face of an imminent end.

For Walsh, the script began seven years ago.

“I had this weird idea about a waitress and the end of the world, and this notion of absolute justice,” she says. “It was kind of a wackier idea when I first started.”

The story found more substantial shape when Walsh entered Workshop West’s playwriting unit, which is where Inglis caught wind of it: intrigued by the idea, she arranged a meeting.

“I was pretty excited about the theatricality of the piece, as well as the mystery of the piece,” Inglis says. “I was really excited by what it would look like onstage; I’m always really interested in space and audiences and what the experience of theatre is—with the text, but also beyond the text.”

Inglis’ Theatre Yes received grant money to develop the script, which lent itself to a longer-than-usual creation process: a number of readings, and then a week-long workshop with actors on their feet, and scenic designers, present to start shaping the space.

“Seeing it in three dimensions was actually incredibly helpful,” Walsh says. “Sometimes things that work a certain way around a table, or you think oh, that makes sense, [and] when you see people actually trying to do it, trying to make the relationship you want three-dimensionally, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not how it is at all.'”

And clarity of relationships seems particularly important here: when the end is quite literally nigh, there isn’t too much room for characters who waffle around.

“I really purposely set it very close to the absolute end of things,” Walsh explains. “I didn’t want to get into this wailing and gnashing of teeth and ‘Woe’s me, what are we going to do, we have to do something.’ Everyone has really accepted that this is coming soon, and the play really investigates that idea, of what would still be important enough to us, to hang on to. Or what parts of society would we try to maintain to still feel like civilized people, I guess. I really wanted to set it really close to the end of the world so people have a sense of purpose and acceptance.”

Thu, Feb 5 – Sun, Feb 15 (8 pm; 2 pm matinee on Sat, Feb 7)
Directed by Heather Inglis
Westbury Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, $17 – $28

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