Bryony Lavery’s play The Believers is firmly the genre of horror, with a mood of psychological suspense akin to the Exorcist films and Rosemary’s Baby. The creepiness and hilarity of an impromptu dinner party between a pliable atheist couple—overwhelmed by the demands of their young daughter—and a proselytizing spiritualist couple—reveling in the orgasmic joy of their parenthood—is made decidedly chilling by lighting and video effects (T. Erin Gruber), sound effects (Rhys Martin), and ecstatic dance.
Marianne (Nadien Chu), Joff (Nathan Cuckow), and their daughter Grace take refuge from a flooded house with neighbours Maud (Gianna Vacirca), Ollie (Patrick Howarth), and their daughter Joyous. Marianne, who is the moral centre of the play, quickly discovers the cultish creed of Maud and Ollie, who insist on sharing their knowledge of God and the joy that animates the universe. According to Maud and Ollie the world is happily unfolding according to God’s plan, they are his chosen favourites and they can manipulate the world with prayer and ritual. Beneath this is a deep strain between them—a devotion to weed, booze and a marriage turned to polyamory.
All is revealed to Marianne and Joff as Grace plays with Joyous upstairs. The drastically variant worldviews of the two couples is mapped onto the children—whom the audience never meets. Grace has pushed her parents to their wits’ end, but her behaviour is that of a normal nine-year-old. Joyous, according to Maud and Ollie, is perfect, but on the night of the flood she is violent.
Director Nancy McAlear has said these characters “both attract and repel,” but these qualities are not shared equally. There is more to be repelled by in Maud and Ollie, with their pretensions of power on a foundation of listless insanity. This coupled with their physical beauty makes them terrifying. Our sympathy clings to Marianne and Joff, whose imperfections reinforce the reasonable nature of their ideas and expectations.
This play is funny, discomforting, and provocative in its presentation of ideologically motivated alternative realities. The vivid portrayals of Marianne and Ollie anchor the play, but some of the performances were uneven. The presence of the children, who are offstage throughout the play, could have been highlighted by additional sound effects;, the audience did not hear any of the noise the children were supposedly making. The dance interludes can appear odd because some of the actors are not dancers, but ultimately the differences in dance expertise reflect a central theme: people drawn unwillingly into a world of magic and madness.
Until Sun., Mar. 19
Roxy on Gateway, $22