Like many of Judith Thompson’s plays Lion in the Streets is a nightmare, full of heightened surrealistic imagery which derives from the obsessions of her characters – like the expressionistic dream plays of Swedish playwright, August Strindberg. The young protagonist, a Portuguese immigrant to Toronto named Isobel, is a ghost in a purgatorial condition, reliving her past at the moment before she dies, and finally freed from the world’s suffering in a moment of understanding and forgiveness. Initially a prey herself to rage and violence, she watches over the living, suffers with them, and finally experiences the possibility of salvation.
Lion in the Streets comprises a series of interconnected episodes which provide graphic glimpses into desperate lives. Although the characters may inhabit different parts of the city on different social levels, they all prey to the evil, or they perpetuate the evil that stalks the streets and invades their homes. The interconnectedness of their lives is portrayed through the movement of one character from each scene into the next scene. Their words and actions carry the residues of their previous experiences. The fluidity of the play’s structure also suggests the interconnectedness of every social “level”: no one is protected by economic advantages. The play is constructed like a ritualistic dance – the characters moving through a common theatrical space, their movements underscored by music.