One Little Goat Theatre Company opened its run of Adam Seelig’s Ubu Mayor at the Wychwood Theatre last night. Inspired by Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi – and the wacky antics and scandals of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford – Seelig describes Ubu Mayor as “an all-out romp of asinine absurdity. With music.” This is One Little Goat’s first production with music, and Seelig is wearing several hats for this piece – also the composer and director – with music and live band direction by Tyler Emond.
Mayor Ubu (Richard Harte) is a well-meaning, but not too bright, bicycle riding guy with a vision who wants the best for his city. He also thinks his wife Huhu (Astrid Van Wieren) is cheating on him with his older brother Dudu (Michael Dufays). The audience knows this to be true, but Huhu and Dudu manage to manipulate and distract the gullible Ubu away from the issue of marital infidelity onto their own schemes for the city. Huhu and Dudu’s selfish grasping for personal power within the halls of municipal politics stands in stark contrast to Ubu’s selfless dream of inclusive city building.
Harte brings a sweet, but dim-witted, teddy bear quality to Ubu – a child-like, simple-minded man who holds power publicly, all the while the unwitting pawn of his wife and brother in private. Van Wieren’s Huhu is both sly and sexy, fetishizing macho dominance – but, much like Ubu, just wants to be loved. Dufays is repulsive yet compelling as the foul-mouthed, thuggish Dudu – a racist, misogynistic, homophobic bully and the polar opposite of his younger brother – a cold puppet master with a primal urge to mount.
The opening of Ubu Mayor’s run coincided with some dramatic, eyebrow-raising events at Toronto City Hall just hours before. In the eleventh hour before the nomination deadline, embattled Mayor Rob Ford withdrew from the mayoral race to focus his fight on a personal medical battle, with brother Doug throwing his hat into the race for mayor, Rob displacing their nephew Michael in the run for councillor of Ward 2 (Etobicoke North) and Michael switching to run for public school trustee. I know; you need a program just to follow all the role switching and understudies in that situation. It should be noted that the production of Ubu Mayor neither represents actual politicians nor is meant as journalistic theatre.
Seelig is not presenting the Ford brothers here, but was inspired by their antics, weaving Ford sound bites into hilarious dialogue (e.g., “Those Oriental people work like dogs.”) and original songs like “Plenty to Eat at Home” (one of my personal faves). Individually and collectively, the cast has an impressive set of pipes, with strong solo work and bang-on harmonies. “Etobicokaine” is another stand-out song. The cast is accompanied by a tight live band: Seelig (piano), Emond (bass) and Jeff Halischuk (drums).
With shouts to the design team Jackie Chau (set and costumes) and Laird MacDonald (lighting) for creating this world, civilized on the surface, with an absurd circus underbelly. The hanging smoked pigs, chandelier and bicycle wheel set the environment perfectly.
Much like the news-grabbing events of City of Toronto politics under the Ford administration, Ubu Mayor is an entertaining, topsy-turvy absurdist romp of political shenanigans and scandal. With music. It really is better to laugh than cry.
And check out this L’Express interview with Seelig here (in French, by Charlotte Dupon).
Ubu Mayor runs until September 21. You can purchase advance tickets online or by calling 416-915-0201.