Apr 18

Downstage’s ‘Benefit’ is thought provoking theatre

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

“The Foundation” does really great charitable work in Matthew MacKenzie’s Benefit, a world premiere play presented by Downstage. The Foundation helps women and girls across the world and works on the status of women on a global scale. The play delves into a story about right and wrong, choice, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. Benefit is a multi-layered, captivating story that has the audience examining the nature of forgiveness. Nothing is as it seems.

The play opens to an auction of rare orchids that Greg (Tyrell Crews) has put together. The auction is a fundraiser for The Foundation, run by Fred (Duval Lang) and Cynthia (Barbara Gordon). The charity’s first beneficiary was Srey Norris (Donna Soares) and she is now the spokesperson for the organization. The auction is going well, but Greg seems off. It is revealed that Srey and Greg are married and the audience is pulled into the backroom with Greg and Fred and their interaction seems a little off. There is a reason for that and when Srey finally asks him what’s wrong when they are alone, Greg reveals a secret that could put both their relationship and the Foundation in jeopardy.

Director Simon Mallett is adept in guiding how the narrative unfolds. Allison Lynch’s sound design and composition helps to keep the time of the play and also raises the tension present in the story. The audience is treated to flashbacks that build the layers of the story and the tension builds until the final reveal. Deitra Kalyn’s set design features golden arches and fake grass in the space of Motel. Benefit is staged in the round and this adds a feeling of intimacy to the play.

There is something to be said for Crews’ performance. He is meek and geeky and he makes it work. Kalyn has him costumed in glasses which helps portray his character. Soares starts off a little sing-songy at the beginning of the play but settles in nicely when there is more demanded of her character. Lang and Gordon are very strong as the power couple who have roles in high places to advance the work of The Foundation.

Benefit is a play that provokes a lot of questions. What should be punished? When do you get redemption? Are you the same person that I first met? MacKenzie has created a nuanced script filled with metaphors and questions. Downstage has fulfilled their mandate of producing theatre that creates conversations. There are many conversations to be had about Benefit.

Downstage’s Benefit runs until April 30th. More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Mike Tan

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