Toronto Fringe: The cult of selfism & celebrity in the sharply hilarious, satirical, eerie Wagon Play

Brendan Kinnon, Jonathan Walls, Katherine Cappellacci, Emma Banigan, Alexis Gontan, Lindsey Middleton & Brandon Gillespie. Photo by Owen Fawcett.

 

Are you living your truth?

Amber Moon and her followers invite you to join them for The Way’s special Resetting Ceremony in Theatre By Committee’s production of Ben Hayward’s Wagon Play. Directed by Hayward and Owen Fawcett, the play runs at Majlis Art Garden as part of Toronto Fringe.

Tired of playing the mall and county fair circuit, former pop idol Amber Moon (Emma Banigan) found her truth within herself, then founded The Way—an organization that guides members to discover and live their truth—comprised of seven levels of truth actualization. Leading up to the Resetting Ceremony, members at various levels along their journey (Katherine Cappellacci, Brandon Gillespie, Alexis Gontan, Brendan Kinnon, Lindsey Middleton and Jonathan Walls) compete for the prize of levelling up (rising up a level) as they each present a personal celebrity icon to prove their mastery over one of the six freedoms from: Humility, History, Apology, Culture War, Group Think and Moral Slavery.

It’s a selfie-taking, Instagram/social media-loving, self-absorbed world with the Mooners; and holding their celebrity inspiration (a TV/reality show dynasty, several music stars, a tech god and even a politician we love to hate) as dearly as any god, they are determined—and even desperate—to succeed and better their status within the organization. As they travel the country recruiting new members, they especially want to be held in high esteem by Amber, who rules the group with her charismatic presence, peppered with cutting honesty, manipulation and conditional love.

With highly engaging, committed and vulnerable performances, the ensemble brings us eerie shades of Scientology, greeting us as new members as we enter the garden and prepare for Amber’s arrival. Entering like a rock star, Banigan’s Amber Moon takes control and space; the human embodiment of the six freedoms The Way espouses. It’s unsettling and compelling at the same time; repulsive and fascinating—yet, like witnessing the train wreck of a dysfunctional family reality show, we can’t turn away. Who will the leader bless with the granting of a higher level tonight?

Wagon Play continues at Majlis Art Garden until July 15; check the show page for exact dates and times. It’s an intimate space and they sold out last night, so advance booking is strongly recommended.

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Sex, death & religion: Pondering life experiences & relationships in thoughtful, sassy, intense FAITH

faith
Lindsey Middleton & Ben Hayward in FAITH – photo by Mike Cameron

“It was the United Church so it was all like sing these songs, hold hands and get the fuck outta here.”

Theatre By Committee opened its production of Ben Hayward’s FAITH in the Chapel at St. Luke’s United Church (353 Sherbourne St., corner of Sherbourne/Carlton, Toronto – Carlton St. entrance). Directed by Brandon Gillespie, FAITH was the winner of the 2016 Hamilton Fringe Festival’s Best New Play Contest.

FAITH is told in the first person by a troubled teen named Faith (Lindsey Middleton), who regularly breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience directly as the story unfolds with her scene partner, Grace United Church minister David (Ben Hayward). Part memory play, part coming of age story, we see Faith navigate complicated relationships with the men in her life: God, her father and David – her thoughts and experiences running the gamut from intellectual, emotional and sexual. One of the big questions she ponders: Are we just the sum of our experiences?

Really lovely work from Middleton and Hayward in this intimate two-hander. It would be easy to write Faith off as a cocky, shit-disturbing, attention-seeking brat – and she is that – but Middleton adeptly mines the layers of hurt, longing and confusion underneath this smart-ass, horny, potty-mouthed kid. Mercurial, sharp, and grasping for hope and meaning, Faith can be her own worst enemy. She’s taken her mother’s advice to kick life in the balls on a daily basis a bit too seriously, a choice that has serious consequences.

Hayward does a great job of finding the awkward, somewhat nerdy, older guy under David’s casual, approachable exterior; David is cool for a clergyman, though – and he genuinely wants to do good in his community. He’s a young husband and father to two young daughters – but, like Faith, there’s so much more to David than what we see in his present life. A kind and gentle soul, he too has a complex response to their relationship.

Throughout the play, multiple meanings of “faith” emerge: a young woman’s name, belief in God or some higher power, and trust in another human being.

With shouts to stage manager Hannah Jack and designer Kelly Anderson for making this production work in this small, non-theatre space.

Sex, death and religion. Pondering the meaning of life experiences and relationships in thoughtful, sassy, intense FAITH.

FAITH continues at St. Luke’s Chapel until Oct 30; seating is limited, so you might want to consider booking tix in advance online.

Absurd family tragedy in The Goat

WARNING: This post contains adult language and content.

Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (subtitled: Notes Towards A Definition of Tragedy) is one absurd, darkly funny, mind-fuck of a play. And if you hadn’t been aware of the play’s subject before arriving at the theatre, you sure as hell get the idea when you receive the program. The cover is a veritable Kama Sutra of man/goat lovin’ illustrations. I went to see Atic Productions’ run of The Goat, directed by Carter West, at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space last night.

On entering the theatre space, you see a set composed of white pedestals, each with an empty plate frame – plates are set at the top of the show when the cast sets the stage, the family home – and a pair of white column/lintel entrances, the lintels askew atop uneven columns. Bringing to mind ancient Greek architecture. The pre-show music is a mix of love songs throughout the decades. Love and tragedy are coming.

Martin (Tim Walker) and Stevie (Rosemary Doyle) are a well-off, well-matched and happily married 40-something couple. Their sweet and handsome 17-year-old son Billy (Ben Hayward) has recently come out as gay, and they’re being pretty cool about it. Their domestic bliss is shattered when Martin reveals to his best friend Ross (Benjamin Blais) that he’s been having an affair – with a goat named Sylvia – a confidence that Ross proceeds to share with Stevie in a letter. You can imagine the family discussion that arises from this revelation.

What is interesting about this play is that Martin and Stevie, in addition to being very intelligent, open-minded people, have the sort of relationship in which they can actually have a discussion about Martin’s unusual infidelity – as painful and enraging as it is for Stevie. As the audience, we are presented with the notion and left to our own judgements – about bestiality and adultery, and even unintentional, spontaneous moments of incest and pederasty. Ross is the sole voice of conservative convention in the play, passing harsh judgement on anything beyond a well-hidden affair with another human, preferably of the opposite sex. And yet his hypocrisy shows as he coaxes the details of Martin’s affair with Sylvia – and despite his protestations and crying moral foul, he takes the taboo scenario in with a sense of scandalized glee.

The play is about 100 minutes long with no intermission and the actors – especially the family members – are taken on a physical and emotional roller coaster ride. Martin and Stevie are fun, affectionate and easy in their relationship – and love each other so big – and the hurt of Martin’s affair crashes so hard that every plate in the room lays broken in the end even as Stevie herself crumbles to the floor in agony. Even young Billy, who tries to intervene and is especially protective of his mother, is reduced to a balling mess after Ross returns to poke the wasp’s nest he’s already kicked at.

Walker is lovely as Martin, a good-humoured, gentle and loving man struggling with the onset of middle age and tormented by his desire for Sylvia. He has great chemistry with Doyle, who brings a funny, smart and sexy Stevie – loyal in love but fierce in betrayal. You really believe that Martin and Stevie have a big love for each other. You also believe that Martin really loves Sylvia too – an extremely painful truth for both Martin and Stevie. Hayward is adorably smart-ass as the teenager Billy, an intelligent and good-natured kid who is aware of just how cool his folks are – and he loves them both a lot. He brings a nice sense of Billy’s conflicted feelings  – torn between the child’s response of running away and the man’s response of stepping in to protect his mother. Blais gives us a nice combination of humour and cynicism as Ross, a character who’s really the outsider in this grouping, espousing a socially moralistic attitude towards fidelity and honour – but it’s all okay if you don’t get caught. Except one must stay within one’s own species with an age-appropriate partner and opposite sex is best. Really strong performances all around – you’re constantly wondering what will happen next. What will he/she do now?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Goat has a very short run at the Tarragon Extra Space – it closes tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, June 24). There are still a few chances left to see it, though, with matinées today and tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., and an evening show tonight at 8:00 p.m.

For more info, visit Atic Productions at: http://aticproductions.com/