SummerWorks: Three strangers reach out for connection in a city on fire in quirky, dark, thoughtful The Tall Building

TheTallBuilding-400x267A city on fire. Coyotes, and other wild and domestic animals wander the streets as people flee the flames and smoke to seek refuge in a safe place, on higher ground. The city has run out of firefighters. The mayor is nowhere to be found and rumour has it that she’s abandoned the city, hiding out in an underground bunker – or dead.

This is the world of It Could Still Happen’s production of The Tall Building, written/directed by Jill Connell – running at the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace for SummerWorks.

It is in this world that three unlikely relationships emerge: Sulla (Molly Flood), a young woman with a man’s name who always wears the same pair of jeans and is good at picking off coyotes with a rifle; the Assassin (Clinton Carew) who lives above her, from the Brotherhood of Assassins, believed to be the cause of all the fires; and the Boy (Philip Nozuka) who lives alone across the hall and writes a self-published community paper called City Streets, which he sets out on the newspaper rack at the local 7-Eleven (where he gets all his groceries). The Boy wants to interview Sulla for the paper because he finds her interesting. The Assassin wants to kill her. Sulla just wants to get out, go outside – go shopping maybe – but she can’t bring herself to leave or move to another apartment. And she doesn’t want people to know who she is. Throughout the course of the action, they get updates on the state of emergency from the radio via updates from Radio 1 (Ishan Davé) and Radio 2 (Brett Donahue).

Excellent work from the cast on this dystopic, near future tale of urban destruction and personal connections. Flood brings some lovely layers to Sulla, a haunted, guarded and cynical young woman, strong and fearless, yet so vulnerable and sad. Carew is comically ominous as the Assassin, a hooded, solitary professional who narrates his life aloud and reveals his role to the others. Is he just bored or is he showing off or overstating his abilities? Nozuka is delightful as the home-schooled Boy, bright and imaginative, precocious and brimming with a can-do positive attitude; he’s making the best of the situation, but he too knows that they can’t keep going the way they are – and he wants to be ready. All three are lost, abandoned and desperately longing for human contact – touch. Even the two radio guys (Davé and Donahue) have a deep, poignant connection, as one is out in the field reporting back to the station, while the other keeps listeners abreast of what’s going on. Everyone’s waiting out the fire, hoping for a change in the weather, something. Something to make things better so they can pick up the pieces and rebuild from the ashes. One thing for sure is nothing will ever be the same.

With big shouts to set/lighting designer Joe Pagnan for the multi-level scaffolding structure, which allows for a multi-layered playing space that features some acrobatic, jungle gym-like staging. The red on air light and fog set us firmly in the emergent, smoky environment of this world. And shouts to It Could Still Happen for a really cool, cleverly designed program – it’s a copy of City Streets, with three pieces, each written from the point of view of the three main characters, with production credits on the back page.

Three strangers reach out for connection in a high-rise above a city on fire in the quirky, dark and thoughtful The Tall Building.

The Tall Building has two more performances at the TPM Backspace: tonight (Sat, Aug 15) at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow (Sun, Aug 16) at 3:00 p.m.

SummerWorks: Turnabout is fair play as women’s sex & violence fantasies take centre stage in Beautiful Man

BeautifulMan-400x320A puppet show within a play within a TV show within a movie. All very sexy. All very violent. All featuring powerful, strong women with beautiful men in the background.

Yep, you read that right. This is the multidimensional storytelling the audience experiences in Groundwater Production’s Beautiful Man, written by Erin Shields and directed by Groundwater co-Artistic Director Andrea Donaldson – now running at the Theatre Centre Mainspace as part of SummerWorks.

It all starts with three friends talking about a new cop movie featuring a female homicide detective on the hunt for a serial killer who’s preying on beautiful young men. After the cop’s nurse boyfriend gives up on their now cold anniversary dinner when she’s late getting home, she sits down to relax and watch TV: a sword and sorcery tale where women are the rulers and warriors, with men acting in the periphery as consorts or slaves. And so the nesting doll structure of storytelling begins – talking about the movie becomes a discussion about the TV show within the movie, then morphing into the play within the TV show and the puppet show within the play. Got it?

Fabulous work from the cast in this mercurial and visceral relating of each story, rife with detailed descriptions, sex and violence. Anusree Roy as the imperious and precise Sophie; Ava Markus as the playful and curious Pam; and Melissa D’Agostino as the straight-shooting, spunky Jennifer. All three women are passionate, assertive, sensual and deeply committed to these stories – so much so that they become fully immersed as they relate each gory, erotic detail. There’s a lot of penis talk. Like, a lot. And detailed too; this is a world where full frontal male nudity is commonplace, and erections (“semi” or full) aren’t just for porno any more. And most of the men seem to have sandy blond hair. Was someone thinking about Ryan Gosling? 😉

Oh, yeah, and Brett Donahue is the Beautiful Man. And he certainly is. Positioned in the background, upstage on a platform behind the three women, Donahue does a great job taking on the roles of each of the beautiful men in these stories – from the cop’s neglected boyfriend, to the queen’s consort, to a wounded soldier bound for his captor’s harem of men. You get the picture.

A reminder to never underestimate what turns women on – and that sex and violence have universal appeal. It’s very possible that the cop in that movie needs to be looking for a female serial killer. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that a bunch of unsolved real-life cases went cold because the cops weren’t looking for a female perpetrator.

With shouts to music and sound designer Richard Feren for the bang-on Game of Thrones-inspired soundtrack.

Turnabout is fair play as women, and their sex and violence fantasies, take centre stage in hilarious, insightful Beautiful Man.

Beautiful Man continues at the Theatre Centre Mainspace until Aug 16 – check here for the show’s full schedule. This is another very popular show, so advanced booking or early arrival at the box office is strongly recommended.

In the meantime, check out the teaser trailer: