Preview: Ode to an absent friend in poignant, funny & nostalgic Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

Scooter ThomasBlack Rabbit Theatre and The Box Toronto have joined forces to remount Black Rabbit’s production of Peter Parnell’s Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World, directed by Rachael Moase, assisted by Mélissa Ringuette, and opening at The Box Toronto (89 Niagara Street) on September 24. I stopped by The Box last night for a preview.

When Dennis (James King) receives a call from his mother that his boyhood friend Scooter (Dan Curtis Thompson) has died, he responds with grief and a trip into memory. As the play unfolds, he and Scooter play out vignettes from their friendship that span from childhood to young adulthood, with King playing all the other assorted people from their lives. Best friends, but polar opposites, Dennis is a sweet guy who likes to play it safe and colour within the lines, while Scooter is a big charming bundle of irrepressible energy and fun, who doesn’t always stay on the right side of the law. As they grow up, we see that Dennis falls easily in step with the traditional life journey of education, career and getting his own place, while Scooter struggles with college, eventually dropping out to work at the post office while living with his parents, where his biggest goal is getting his own place. And even though Dennis and Scooter drift apart during their college years, it’s obvious that Dennis is concerned about the path his friend is taking – or not, in this case – and wants to be there for him. It is here where their personality differences come to conflict.

Outstanding performances from King and Thompson throughout this high-energy, well-paced 70-minute play. As Dennis, James brings a nice combination of buddy and protector to the friendship dynamic, excited to share every detail of life’s experiences, and hurt and angry when he learns that Scooter’s been holding out no him – and even more so when he becomes suspicious about the circumstances of Scooter’s death. James also adeptly shifts into playing other characters from their shared history: Scooter’s strict, unforgiving dad; Scooter’s older brother; and friends and teachers. Each characterization is nuanced, with a distinct energy, physicality and vocal quality – and in some cases, the shifts are very quick. Thompson’s Scooter is full of curiosity, adventure and mischief – Puckish as opposed to juvenile delinquent. Not cut out for academics or the corporate world, he has a lost boy quality about him as he struggles to find his way after high school, trying to come to grips with fading hopes and dreams. Youthful expectations and reality – and the road not taken – figure prominently in Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

The awesome pre-show soundtrack of 60s and 70s pop favourites, including songs by Fleetwood Mac (“Landslide” works particularly well for this show), The Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel – coupled with the 70s (Scooter) and 80s (Dennis) costuming – make this memory play a trip down cultural memory lane as well. Dennis and Scooter (had he lived) would be in their 50s now.

Ode to an absent friend in poignant, funny and nostalgic two-hander Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World.

Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World runs at The Box Toronto from Sept 24 – Oct 4; advance tix available online – it’s an intimate space, so booking ahead is strongly recommended.

In the meantime, give Black Rabbit Theatre, The Box Toronto and the show a Like on Facebook. And check out the Scooter Thomas trailer, which features interview clips with Moase, Thompson and King:

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Toronto Fringe NSTF: Big rhapsodic fun with sketch comedy in Unbridled & Unstable

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Gwynne Phillips & Briana Templeton in Unbridled & Unstable

My second opening night show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (NSTF) in the Factory Theatre Studio last night was The Templeton Philharmonic’s production of Gwynne Phillips’ and Briana Templeton’s sketch comedy romp Unbridled and Unstable.

From the moment they appear through the mist astride their noble steeds Dvorak and Duchovny (riding side saddle, of course), Philips and Templeton take the audience on an engaging, satirical ride of sketches: Victorian equestrian ladies, a book club discussion, a 1950s amateur foley artist radio show, a real estate agent’s absurd home showing and audience participation horse racing.

Drawing on psychological dramas and thrillers of the 50s and 60s, Phillips’ and Templeton’s voice and diction work is spot on. Most of the sketches are two-handers, but the gals break out for solo efforts: Templeton’s hilarious historic romance novelist reading, and Phillips as the drunken and inappropriately frank Aunt Gloria, staggering down memory lane as she describes the photos in a family album to the kids. Throw in some wacky fun dance breaks – with nods to disco, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and Truly Scrumptious’s music box doll from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and you’ve got one ripping good time.

Added bonus: Templeton Philharmonic merch is available for purchase before the show and the program notes include saucy renderings of horses by Philips, Templeton and SM/Associate Producer Vanessa K. Purdy.

Unbridled and Unstable is a big, rhapsodic fun trip though some sharp-witted and highly entertaining sketch comedy. Somewhere, Dorothy Parker is raising a martini glass to these two wacky, smart and fun-loving gals.

Unbridled and Unstable continues in the Factory Theatre Studio until Sun, Jan 18 – with a talkback at The Hoxton following the show on Sun, Jan 11. Click here for advance tix.