Sunday, March 26, 2023

Review: The Extinction Therapist Explores Fragility of Life and Love

Who: Theatre Aquarius
What: The Extinction Therapist
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes with intermission
Theatre Aquarius Mainspace (190 King William Street)
When: January 25 – February 11
Tickets: $30 and up
To Buy Tickets:

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that “if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships- the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.” 

The sentiment about the value of relationships, and the potential consequences that can arise due to their fragile nature is at the very core of Theatre Aquarius’ latest offering, The Extinction Therapist by Clem Martini, which opened on Friday. 

The show is an existential, absurdist comedy that marks the Theatre company’s latest shift towards a new identity as they prepare to announce their fiftieth season. Far from the feel-good, big name productions that the company has so often produced, The Extinction Therapist takes a turn to bring together an unlikely cast of characters including a woolly mammoth, a shrew, the smallpox virus, a tyrannosaurus rex and the Minister of the Environment for group therapy sessions to confront their imminent extinction. Theatre Aquarius’ production marks the world premiere.

The truths that emerge over the course of the just-over ninety-minute production are universal. The ways in which we show compassion and forgiveness, our own mortality, environmental culpability and the desire for meaningful connection are themes that are easily relatable without being an endangered species.  

The key to any good therapy session is a great doctor. In The Extinction Therapist, the character in question is Dr. Marshall, played by Theatre Aquarius veteran Richard Clarkin. As the titular character, it’d be safe to assume that Clarkin would be at the centre of the show- and you’d be correct to make that assumption. There’s barely a moment when Clarkin is not onstage, and even when he doesn’t have dialogue, his character manages to insert himself into each scene, making his presence as a guiding light for his unusual patients well-asserted. Clarkin is believable in his role, making sure that the audience is acutely aware that the relationships between this doctor and his patients are just as important as the relationships and emotions that he tries to cultivate within each individual- and that both have much to learn from each other.  

While there are scenes between the doctor and individual patients, the majority of the production takes place in group therapy sessions. Here, the remainder of the cast shines as a collective, each playing off of their distinct personality traits. While their comedic chemistry kept the ensemble together, it was the timing and expression of Anand Rajaram (Smallpox Virus) that the audience particularly seemed to enjoy. Frequent attendees of the Hamilton theatre community will notice several familiar faces within this cast, and it was appreciated that Theatre Aquarius made a choice to include Hamilton-based professional performers for several of these roles.  

While the performance onstage is one focus, in The Extinction Therapist, the set is an equal player in the production. Designed by Scott Penner, there is so much to see- all of which tied in to and enhanced the greater story being told. At intermission, I found my discussions centering on the set elements and found that as the set evolved in the second half, it became even more interesting until its final configuration. 

A world premiere is a risky production to take on- and Theatre Aquarius has two more coming up this season. In doing so, Theatre Aquarius is continuing to shift its focus under a new Artistic Director to the type of stories it tells- in this case, one of the fragility of relationships and life. While the premise is absurdist and unusual and the script could stand to be a little shorter, it’s also tremendously creative. This is the kind of risk Theatre Aquarius should be taking- and it’s worth supporting. Go see it.

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