A decades-old cold case, science, intrigue, spies, conspiracy, racial profiling and romance, are all parts of the puzzle that playwrights Ellen Close and Braden Griffiths present in Cipher.
The Arts Club Theatre Company in partnership with Calgary’s Vertigo Theatre are presenting the World Premiere of Cipher until March 7th at The Granville Island Stage. The multi-disciplinary, multi-media show grabs the audience as the opening prologue, introduces the audience to the Beacon Hill body, a 1956 cold case of a John Doe found on the shore of Victoria BC’s Beacon Hill park.
Opening with minutes of no dialogue could be risky for a new play but choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, and performers Arash Khakpour, Delia Brett and Braden Griffiths, create a compelling movement that tells us just what the audience needs to set up the remainder of the story. Narda McCarroll’s versatile set, along with Lighting Designer Parjad Sharifi and Jamie Nesbitt, Projection Designer, create an appealing abstract of Victoria and surrounds.
By the time Dr Grace Godard, played by co-writer Ellen Close, steps in front of her “class” for their first lecture of the semester, the audience is ready to learn more. Using the ‘Beacon Hill Body’ case as extra credit for her forensic toxicology course, we find she has more than a passing interest in this cold-case, having obsessed over it for a number of years. Enter engineering student, Aqeel Saleemi (Praneet Akilla), also with an interest in this case, for more personal reasons. Together they bond over their investigation of the case, as their relationship becomes more personal so too does the case. While the “terribly handsome” Aqeel learns more about his family history, Grace’s obsession pushes them to great lengths to find out more, to the detriment. Their investigation proceeds with history, as the continuation of the opening movement, intertwining with the present. Others also begin to take interest in the pair’s activities bringing trust and mistrust into the relationship.
Ellen Close presents Grace’s obsession with the case almost like a addiction, while Aqeel is fine to leave it behind worrying about his parents and faith, interestingly echoed in a discussion about drinking. As they grow closer, they learn more about each other, but these truths also drive them apart as religious and cultural differences bring conflicts to a peak. The chemistry between the actors makes their connection believable, while their contrasts help make the characters well rounded.
Close and Griffiths have managed to pack a lot into the play but don’t overload the audience. The mystery and intrigue provide a hook to lead the audience along, then throughout the 2 hours we find romance, science, spies and conspiracy filter through, while privilege and profiling provide social commentary. Overlying all of this, the movement brings a calm beauty to the work preventing it from becoming too obsessive and frantic. While parts of Cipher are left unresolved other storylines have a clear resolution, leaving us with just enough satisfaction but also wanting more.
Cipher puts so much onstage that it will keep you thinking after leaving the theatre, and possibly coming back to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
The World Premiere of Cipher continues at The Arts Club Theatre Company Granville Island Stage until March 7, 2020. Visit artsclub.com for showtimes and tickets.