I think there are many things about this production that generally go unspoken in most play reviews but that I would like to mention. This play was written by Canadian playwright, George F. Walker, and had a female director, Hilary Scott. Check on representation on both counts!
First off I’d like to address the choices that Scott made. There was a real timelessness to the production due to the music spanning decades (and presented out of sequence: she wasn’t using it to move us from the 1950s to the 80s, for example) although all the music had a specific feel that added to the production (sound design by Scott & Alison Crosby). The casting was “on point” without being stereotypical. The large backdrop set pieces added an interesting element to the play and were very versatile; it was interesting to see how they were used throughout the production (set design by Bradley Murphy). In the initial scene, the characters of Junior (Phonse Walsh) and Gayle (Jenna Lahey) deliver their lines over monkey bars in a playground. The sheer challenge of blocking that scene boggles my mind but it worked extremely well. So kudos to the director on her brave, intelligent and interesting choices. They worked well and kept me very engaged.
Here’s a full disclaimer. I didn’t really like this play, although it had some great performances and interesting directorial choices. Having mulled it over, I did not like the source material, the play itself. But I liked the production. I’m hoping as you read through this you can juxtapose these two comments and see the difference.
There were really great performances in the production. The character of William (Sean Sullivan) as the homeless man (who ends up as a surrogate father figure) anchored the show and he also had the honour of delivering many humorous lines. The actor did a terrific job with the accent of the character as well. Wineva’s (Mary-Jean Doyle) character is effectively menacing as the wife of a crime boss. She has some of the best lines in the show too, as she says to Junior, “They told me you were a dumb fuck but they didn’t tell me you were the dumbest fuck.”
Still, as aforementioned, my issue is with the source material. In some ways, it seemed like all the characters were in a different play. There were elements of film noir, thriller, adventure, romance, comedy… which maybe was too much at once for me. This did create a surreal aspect to the play and certainly music choice, set design and costuming complemented that timeless/surreal/taking place in a time not ours (but not unlike ours) quality. The script also made some big leaps, at one point coming to the conclusion that the character of Wineva had a mental illness and using that to propel the story line: I just didn’t see the context for that leap in the dialogue, although I feel the actors did a good job with what they had to work with in trying to portray that.
Finally, this play would be a good one for a talkback type of session, because I think that the genre-switching in the production, and the comedy, masked a lot of serious and relevant topics, such as family violence (captured in the relationship between Junior and his father Henry (George MacKenzie)), lack of options for people in poverty (as we see cycles repeating themselves), prostitution (Gayle’s friend Sandy (Nicole Drohan) considers this as a career path to try out, so she can see if she can do it if she has to), homelessness, and so on. I’m often engaged in discussions about issues like that, and even for me, some of it only hit home long after the production. I’d certainly recommend taking a friend and going for a coffee or drink afterwards, which is what you should do after every production!
For a different perspective, see also Ken Chisholm’s review.