Skip to main content

REVIEW: Vierge at Factory Theatre

iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz
/By / Apr 16, 2023

It’s not often #theaTO feels as cohesive as it has this season. Across theatres we’ve seen synergistic plays about animals; plays about classical music; plays about immigration

One of the more compelling throughlines of the season has been that of religion — embracing it, rejecting it, manipulating it. Wielding vastly different points of view and authorial styles, this season’s playwrights have approached the power of organized religion head-on, building complex worlds around spirituality and its various presences in modern society. 

Rachel Mutombo’s Vierge, in its thrilling world premiere at Factory Theatre, rips Christianity to its bones, hunting for any sign of its relevance to today’s youth. Director Natasha Mumba is more than up for the task of asking these difficult questions, sifting through teenagehood for any semblance of a religious foothold. 

Set in a church basement, Vierge bears witness to the real-time effects of gossip on an otherwise close-knit church community. There’s a new pastor, we hear — the last one stepped down for murky reasons. His daughter, the confident and occasionally bratty Bien-Aimé (a radiant Kudakwashe Rutendo), is allegedly a homewrecker, but surely that can’t be true, since she’s happily involved with a boyfriend we never meet.

Then there’s the Katende sisters, Grace and Sarah, recent arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They’re the same age, but not twins, and conspicuously prone to frequent spats about nothing. Grace came to Canada first, and while she goes to church, she’s more than willing to indulge in her adolescent sexual desires (she’s played by the very funny Yvonne Addai). Sarah, on the other hand, still struggles with the occasional English idiom (as Grace frequently reminds her), and as we get to know her, it seems that’s not all she’s grappling with (she’s brought to life in a subtle, shimmering performance by JD Leslie).

We get to know these queen bees of the church through the eyes of Divine, as pious as her name might suggest and prone to sporting any number of brightly coloured cardigans (in brilliant, cheeky costume design by Joyce Padua). Shauna Thompson has her work cut out for her — Divine is as likeable as she is prudish, with little to suggest anything by way of character flaws for much of the play’s exposition — but in Vierge’s final breath, Thompson gorgeously brings the dark side of Divine’s devotion to life, playing both edges of a teenage girl unexposed to the adult world lying beneath the surface of her church.

As Vierge develops, it quickly becomes clear this is no Mean Girls odyssey from clunky to cool for Divine — it’s much, much richer than that. While a passing knowledge of theology will enhance your enjoyment of the play (it’s no accident that Divine’s Bible study group group just can’t seem to get through the Book of Ruth), Mutombo has built a world compelling on its own merit, leaving the audience to engage with the religious signposts in the text as much or as little as they wish. Mutombo’s skill as a playwright is fiercely evident here, and she’s opted for a bold, divisive ending (or, well, non-ending — much of the play’s tension is left unresolved, an exciting and, to my eye, perfect choice for this play). Rachel Forbes’ set ably suggests the church basement location (though does at times create some sightline issues, particularly during scenes in the pastor’s cluttered office), and Jareth Li’s lights are inventive and fun, especially during an ill-fated church dance. Andrew Johnson’s nostalgic sound design equally suggests that high-school-dance atmosphere, rife with veritable bangers of the early 2010s.

Vierge is a brave and beautiful new play stuffed to the gills with talent and intrigue. It’s got all the charm of last year’s The Waltz and all the religious drama of Tarragon’s The Hooves Belonged to the Deer. Go.

Vierge runs at Factory Theatre through April 8–30, 2023.

Aisling Murphy

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, NEXT Magazine, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Production photo of The Caged Bird Sings at the Aga Khan Museum. iPhoto caption: Photo by Zeeshan Safdar.

REVIEW: With the help of a daring set, The Caged Bird Sings brings Rumi into the present day

Literal and metaphorical cages abound in this radical adaptation of Rumi’s Masnavi, produced by Modern Times Stage Company and presented in the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard.

By Liam Donovan
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: Age Is a Feeling aches with tenderness and love

Age Is a Feeling is a warm hug for whoever might need it.

By Aisling Murphy
Production shots of the Stratford Festival shows reviewed below: Hedda Gabler, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet. iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Straightforward concepts, stripped-down sets, and strong performances define Stratford’s approach to the canon this year

Throughout Stratford’s productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Hedda Gabler, moments of actorly playfulness jolt us into the here and now.

By Liam Donovan
stratford festival iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Stratford boasts a flair for the dramatic in two terrific musicals and a spooky take on Shakespeare

All in, this was a very strong opening week for Stratford, but seriously, go see the musicals!

By Aisling Murphy
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: The Wrong Bashir is an ode to the hyphenated identities of Canada

Quibbles on the show's comedy aside, The Wrong Bashir will stay with me for a while as a successful ode to hyphenated identities across Canada. 

By Eleanor Yuneun Park
iPhoto caption: Photo of Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall by Cylla von Tiedemann.

REVIEW: The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like coming home

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling, and Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like I came home. I was taken on a journey watching this play and came out honoured to be a witness to such an incredible story. I encourage you to do the same.

By Aisha Lesley Bentham