Sean Dixon’s The Orange Dot, produced by Theatrefront, is a study in the two steps back, one step forward process of conversing the prejudice out of a friend. The friends in this back and forth narrative are Natalie (Daniela Vlaskalic) and Joe (Shawn Doyle), two City of Toronto workers waiting for a rig to help remove a tree they’ve been instructed to meet by. The tree holds a futuristic white box – possibly a house – where supernatural happenings are afoot under its intermittent glow.
The pair covers some heavy subjects for 6 a.m.: ISIS, Natalie’s recently deceased mother, gender roles, role models and the news. They mostly confront each other’s ignorance in these matters with patience and careful execution of the Socratic method. This allows for a safe space to air out and untangle contradictory thoughts, and to push buttons when a bit of embarrassing information comes to light, so that the outbursts that inevitably ensue blow over quickly.
Doyle makes Joe’s soft spoken nature chilling in its calmness, a sign of the latent violence in his unchallenged bigotry toward women and foreigners. Joe doesn’t know the extent of his worldview's capacity for harm; but in his willingness to be educated by Natalie, he dispels, though only barely, the stereotype of the "good ol' Canadian boy" whose provincialism is ubiquitous in all life decisions, showing that pretty much anybody can be gotten through to if you allow them to be heard.
Vlaskalic’s performance is the genesis of a heroine, the development of an activist consciousness of women’s inequality in real time. Natalie fashions critical awareness out of outrage at Joe’s resistance to reason. She patiently critiques his word choices as a form of protest, slowly getting ahead of her deference to his systemic sexist remarks. Her outspoken, progressive politics is a rejection informed by healthy debate of the culture of silence surrounding discrimination.
The play’s supernatural side plot is justified by Vlaskalic’s transformation into a godly female figure. As she interacts with the tree, tapping into an ancestral mind state of female authority, she rises up against Joe’s sleights with a relish delectable to behold.
Dixon’s dialogue marvels at the shapes and sounds of words and what accents can do to them. He highlights the beauty of language wherever he can to sustain a play that is basically one 90-minute conversation, conjuring up enough shared moments of unadulterated awe, like his characters’ rapid exchanges that border on a shorthand language, and individual ones, like Natalie’s primal bursts of storytelling, to more than capably carry the story forward in stride. The equation to the protagonists’ chemistry is the rhythm of their words.
Director Vikki Anderson does well to fill the vast, minimalist set by emphasizing the play’s physicality. Her attention to emotional cues like increased nearness, distance and changes in tone are satisfying challenges to our allegiances to either character.
The Orange Dot speaks to the messiness of getting to know someone who might seem incompatible with you at first, but is in fact the opposite, if you’re both willing to pay due respect to the stories you believe to make sense of your places in the world.
The Orange Dot runs until April 1 at the Streetcar Crowsnest Guloien Theatre. For more information, visit http://www.theatrefront.com/