Preview: LOL warfare with neighbours from Hell in the quirky, edgy Person of Interest

There are good neighbours and there are bad neighbours. This is a story about the latter: The neighbours from Hell. And what happens when a good neighbour gets pushed too far. Written and performed by Melody A. Johnson, with additional dialogue by Eric Woolfe and directed by Rick Roberts, Person of Interest previewed last night in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace.

Inspired by the true story of an event that happened on Johnson’s street in Little Poland, Person of Interest is a one-woman tale of a neighbourly dynamic gone wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

Wanting to help out at her son’s school on Pizza Day, Johnson must submit to a background check to determine eligibility/fitness for the task. Standard procedure. What’s not so standard is that her application is denied; she’s been flagged as a Person of Interest. And so we go back to the beginning, back to when she, an actor, met and married Allen, a composer, and how they bought a house in a cool little west end neighbourhood, on a street off of Roncesvalles, and moved in with their five-year-old son Dashiell and their rescue dachshund Luna.

They soon meet the Krakowskis, the next door neighbours with whom they share a three-foot wide alley. A primly neat, pressed, conservative couple with a pre-schooler and a dog of their own, no sooner have the introductions been made when the Krakowskis request that Johnson and family move their furnace vent, as they fear it’s a hazard. In true Canadian fashion, Johnson complies; it seems to be a simple enough request and their contractor is still onsite. She later realizes she should have listened to her mother and not given in.

That first request is just the beginning of a series of increasingly nit-picking, unreasonable expectations that go from passive aggressive to downright bullying, with infuriating impacts on outdoor décor and landscaping, not to mention the Krakowski’s Hummer blasting exhaust fumes into Johnson’s home. Cue the subsequent retaliation and the Law & Order gavel thunk! Desperate, crazy times call for desperate, crazy measures.

Johnson is an entertaining storyteller and a treat to watch. Endearingly Puck-like, full of energy, mischief and irreverence for the mundane, but genuinely wanting to get along, she weaves this sometimes shocking tale of neighbourhood warfare with candour and an edgy sense of fun. Deftly shifting in and out of her cast of characters, highlights include the uptight, controlling, mom from the Hummer driving couple from Hell next door; and her smoking, knitting, crime procedural loving mother, who’s always up for offering her own brand of sage and wry-witted advice. As herself, Johnson plays out with hilarious honesty scenes from her actor’s life, her growing neurosis as she navigates the looming jackassery next door alone while Allen is away on a gig, and serves up snapshots of universal observational humour.

Person of Interest opens in the Tarragon Workspace tonight and runs for one weekend only, with three more performances: tonight and March 3 at 8:00 pm, and March 4 at 2:30 pm. Get advance tickets online or by calling 416-531-1827. It’s an intimate venue and a super short run—and last night’s preview was close to sold out— so advance tickets are recommended.

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SummerWorks: Capturing the humanity & quirks of Toronto’s west end in Face Value: West

FaceValueWest-400x300One woman. Six photographs. Limitless possibilities.

Still black and white images of west end Toronto life come alive in a wonderful, collaborative work by actor Tracey Hoyt and photographer Kate Ashby, directed by Melody A. Johnson and Rick Roberts, in Dorothy Mae Productions’ Face Value: West – now running at the Theatre Centre Incubator space as part of SummerWorks.

Brilliantly conceived and performed, with sharply-drawn characters, Hoyt is the orchestra, and Ashby’s west end Toronto photographs are both the sheet music and the conductor. Combining improvisation with personal storytelling, Hoyt responds to each photograph that appears onscreen by acting out the scene and using this as a jumping off point for anecdotes of moments and memories from her own life.

A woman sitting by herself outside the ROM, her back to us, sits across the sidewalk from a solitary man – their postures informing the tone of the characters as the story takes an unexpected, comic turn. A sign taped to the window of a bar, advertising a  karaoke night hosted by Maria creates a multicultural/multilingual cast of characters that incorporates the audience and includes a shy would-be performer who longs to sing “Edelweiss.”

People out on the street, some of them homeless. A shirtless old man sitting on a stoop, cigarette in one hand as he gestures with the other, becomes “The Captain.” A guy and a girl panhandling on the sidewalk, the girl eating an ice cream cone with a dog snoozing under her outstretched legs, becomes a family, each member with very different priorities. A young man with a parrot becomes a licensed street busker. And a scene of a woman and two men sitting side by side on the subway unfolds into moments from a disappointing second date witnessed by a watchful secret admirer. In the end, all six photos appear – and each of these fictional, improvised moments and lives are wrapped up with a final word from the characters.

Funny, poignant and observant – Face Value: West captures the humanity and quirkiness of everyday folks hanging out in Toronto’s west end. All in all, a delight to watch.

Face Value: West continues at the Theatre Centre Incubator until Aug 16 – see the show page for exact dates/times.