Sonder, noun: “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own,” populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness, an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground.
Never have I contemplated the word ‘sonder’ as much as I did after seeing Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s Lion in the Streets. Thompson’s play, presented by the Dawson College’s Professional Theatre and directed by Barbara Kelly, tells the story of the ghost of a brutally murdered young girl who wanders the streets of Toronto. The first scene of the play sets the stage, where a few rowdy, dirty, mean teenagers taunt Isobel (played by Alessandra Caruso and Amélie Demchuk on alternate nights), the nine-year-old ghost who serves as our protagonist. This prepares the audience for the characters they’re about to be introduced to – civilized adults on the surface, but underneath just as petty and nasty as these young teenagers. Although Isobel is the protagonist, at times it is difficult to even remember her presence, as the play has twenty-something other characters. Most of the time, Isobel is just peering through their windows, secretly observing their lives.
The play is composed of a number of small scenes between many different adult characters. Once one scene is over, a seemingly unimportant character stays to take part in the next scene, and the audience sees a quick snapshot of their life, with all the new characters. The characters seem so important while they are onstage, but once they are gone, they are never seen again. This puts forth the depressing notion that though we all feel very important in our own ‘scenes,’ everyone else in the entire world has a ‘scene’ that feels just as important to them, and seems just as irrelevant to others. Isobel is the only person who is there in every scene, and she is the only one who can see how they are related.
At first, it seems that the end will reveal some connection between the somewhat disjointed scenes presented, possibly showing that all of the characters are secretly associated with Isobel’s murder, making everything come together nicely for the audience. But as the play unfolds, it becomes clear that the only thing that is similar in all of the short scenes are the themes of death and evil. It is the story of acquaintances who are so wrapped up in their own sorrows that they fail to see that they are the core of their own sorrows, whether through infidelity, bullying, arrogance, et cetera. As the play progresses, Isobel continues to look for the ‘lion’ that she believes has killed her. She senses it constantly and tries to protect people from it. Unfortunately, the evil is deeply rooted within all of them.
Kelly’s use of music and dance enhanced the play’s rhythm, adding a more theatrical quality to the proceedings. A particularly interesting choice, “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M., was played during the intermission, and a slow, creepy version of Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” was played (and occasionally danced to) many different times, portraying every person’s futile search for a ‘sweet dream.’ This theatricality made Lion in the Streets a slightly less brutal experience for the viewer. The play is so vivid and graphic in both its language and action. A priest almost drowns a boy, a rape victim’s boyfriend makes her believe it was her fault, a mother of two has cancer; the threat of death and evil is constantly lurking. The theatricality helps bring the audience back to reality, helps the viewer breathe and remember, “Oh, this is just a play, there is no way all people are so completely rooted in evil and are so obsessed with death.” Unfortunately, it was not that easy to feel so far-removed from the production. This play vividly displays the materials to reflect on the ‘lion’ of your own life and make you wonder how you never noticed it before.
Lion in the Streets is playing from February 6 to 8 at 8 p.m. with a matinee on February 6 at 12:30 p.m. at Dawson Theatre (2000 Atwater). Tickets are $8 for students.