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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Cue6 takes us to the edge of funny & disturbing – Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up

kate & samCue6 Theatre Company continues to push the edge of hilarious and disturbing with its current production, the Canadian premiere of Joel Kim Booster’s Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up, directed by Jill Harper and running at Fraser Studios.

The Kate (Karen Knox) and Sam (AJ Vaage) of the title are the teen movie stars of Ghost forest, a fantasy series that finds a young ghost hunter falling in love with his supernatural prey. Their on again/off again off-screen romance has just ended, to much tabloid coverage, and Kate’s life appears to be spinning out of control as she gets her own headlines as Hollywood’s bad girl de jour. Bill (Tim Walker) and Becky (Rebecca Liddiard) are a pair of overzealous fans who decide to execute a bizarre couple’s therapy intervention on the two young celebs – by kidnapping them and holding them hostage in Bill’s apartment. Relationship revelations emerge – and not just for Kate and Sam.

Adeptly shifting between the action in Bill’s living room and scenes from Ghost forest, this dark comedy takes a stab at the cult of celebrity, teen fantasy fiction and fandom – and this cast nails it big time. Knox’s Kate is sharp and edgy, her fuck-you attitude dissolving to show a genuine, savvy and severely confused young woman. Vaage is a sweetie as Sam, a sensitive romantic who’s trying to stay real, and who appears to be more like his film character than Kate. Walker brings a hilariously nerdy sense of hesitation and wonder to 30-something fanboy Bill, a mall cop on disability who lives vicariously through his movie heroes; and Liddiard’s Becky is a big ball of teen fangirl exuberance and quirky, sometimes cruel, edge – extremely passionate about and devoted to her favourite fantasy series and willing to go to great lengths to protect it.

Big shouts to set (Christine Groom) and props design (Jenny So) for the fanboy living room, complete with sci-fi/fantasy figurines – still in their original packaging – mounted on the walls; a rack of weapons on top of the shelf that houses the movie collection; and the signed Ghost forest movie poster, taking pride of place in the centre of it all. I also loved the intermission music – an evocative fantasy movie soundtrack (sound design by Tim Lindsay).
Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up is a darkly funny look at celebrity relationships, fandom and intervention. Running until June 21 at Fraser Studios, I’d suggest booking ahead, as seating is limited. In other words, go see this.