Struggling with life’s complexities in the quirky, hilarious, poignant George F. Walker double bill: Her Inside Life & Kill the Poor

Left: Catherine Fitch in Her Inside Life. Right: Craig Henderson & Anne van Leeuwen in Kill the Poor. Photos by John Gundy.

 

Leroy Street Theatre and Low Rise Productions join forces, with the assistance of Storefront Theatre, to present a world premiere double bill of two George F. Walker plays: Her Inside Life, directed by Andrea Wasserman, and Kill the Poor, directed by Wes Berger—completing The Parkdale Palace Trilogy after a successful run of Chance last Fall. Featuring sharply drawn characters living on the fringes of urban society, it’s classic Walker; a brilliant, quirky, hilarious and poignant look at life’s “losers” as they struggle with unique and complex problems. The compelling and entertaining double bill opened last night at The Assembly Theatre.

Her Inside Life (directed by Andrea Wasserman). A woman convicted of murder, under house arrest due to mental incapacity, discovers that the second man she thought she’d killed is still alive.

Former English literature teacher Violet (Catherine Fitch) is under house arrest for the murder of her husband Keith, who she believes was a serial killer. Found to be mentally incapacitated, she’s under the mandatory supervision of social worker Cathy (Sarah Murphy-Dyson); and the two are engaged in an ongoing battle of wills over Violet’s medication and erratic behaviour. Violet’s previously absent daughter Maddy (Lesley Robertson) arrives on the scene, wanting to help but struggling with her own demons. Violet longs to see her two grandkids—and Cathy and Maddy team up in an attempt to make that happen.

When Violet learns that the second man she thought she’d killed-her brother-in-law Leo (Tony Munch)-is alive and recently out of prison, her drive for exoneration and acceptance of her story is renewed. She believes that Leo was an accessory to Keith’s murders; and she’s convinced that her mother-in-law’s diaries have evidence to prove her theory. Trouble is, they’re written in Lithuanian. As Maddy and Violet attempt to translate the diaries, Cathy discovers Violet’s unorthodox means of getting information from Leo. And that’s when things get really crazy.

Fitch is a treat as the quirky, funny and highly intelligent Violet; impishly mischievous and charming, Violet is a tricky customer who knows how to play the system-and what she lacks in tact, she makes up for in chutzpah. Longing for some independence and dignity, and desperate to be believed, she fights the odds to be heard. Murphy-Dyson is a perfect foil as Cathy; put-upon, yet friendly, patient and professional, Cathy truly cares for and wants to help Violet—but she’s nobody’s fool and won’t take any bullshit. Robertson is both goofy and heartbreaking as Maddy; having been through the wars emotionally herself, Maddy is a struggling alcoholic with an asshole for a husband. She wants to help, but could use a hand herself. Munch’s Leo is a complex combination of low-level thug and hurt little boy; a reminder that bullies are what they are for a reason, there’s a soft, gooey centre under that hard shell.

Kill the Poor (directed by Wes Berger, assisted by Breanna Dillon and Marisa McIntyre). A young couple recovering from a tragic car accident are assisted by their building’s handyman, a disbarred lawyer who bites off more than he can chew with his plan to get justice.

As Lacey (Anne van Leeuwen) arrives home to continue recovering from a tragic car accident that took her brother Tim’s life, she and husband Jake (Craig Henderson) must now also figure out how they’re going to organize and pay for Tim’s funeral. When their building handyman Harry (Ron Lea) learns of their predicament, he offers to help; a disbarred, former crooked lawyer, he hatches a plan to create a witness in Lacey’s favour.

Meanwhile, police detective Annie (Chandra Galasso) wants some answers about what happened the night of the accident, but Lacey can’t even remember who was driving her car, let alone which driver ran the red light. The other driver, Mr. David (Al Bernstein), who came away relatively unscathed in his Escalade, shows up with a large cheque , claiming it’s to cover the cost of Lacey’s totalled car. And when Harry’s plan is tweaked to target Mr. David, the gang finds they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when they find out about his ties to organized crime. Then, things get really tense.

There’s great chemistry between van Leeuwen’s street-smart, grown-up Lacey and Henderson’s dim-witted, child-like, loyal Jake. Looking after her mom, keeping Jake on the straight and narrow, and now having to plan her brother’s funeral—all while still recovering from her injuries—Lacey finds reserves of strength even she didn’t know she had. Lea is a laugh riot as the eccentric, energetic Harry; shifting from waxing philosophical, to hilarious bursts of outrage, to devious scheming, Harry is fighting for redemption from a checkered past. Galasso’s Annie brings the edge and skepticism of a seasoned cop, softened by a strong sense of compassion; while Annie can be a suspicious hard-ass, the harshness of the job hasn’t dulled her drive to serve and protect. And Bernstein’s Mr. David is a compelling collage of menacing presence, dark comic wise guy and empathetic listener. David feels for Lacey’s situation, but won’t have his reputation and livelihood put in jeopardy by attracting unwanted attention in a possible vehicular manslaughter trial.

 

Once again, Walker reminds us that there’s so much more to people than meets the eye—including those we would write off due to socioeconomic status, chosen profession, or mental or intellectual capacity. In the end, we’re all just trying the best we can to make it through the day with some dignity and security—and some days are freakier than others.

Her Inside Life and Kill the Poor continue at The Assembly Theatre until November 18; both shows run every night, with alternating curtain times of 7pm and 9pm. Get advance tickets online or purchase at the door; it’s an intimate venue and a strong production, so advance booking strongly recommended.

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Toronto Fringe: A big gooey fun love letter to T.O. in Bad Dog Theatre’s Toronto, I Love You

torontoiloveyou1More comedy fun last night at Bad Dog Theatre Company’s Toronto, I Love You – directed by Julie Dumais Osborne and now playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse during Toronto Fringe.

Live and unscripted, the Bad Dog Repertory Players treat the audience to a night of improv, based on audience input. Last night, we were asked to give them a location in the city – a special, perhaps secret, place that we love and feel good in. From the audience: the bat cave at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – and it was both funny and surprising that, while most of the audience had been there, a majority of the players had not. From the players: the annual Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade and actor Jess Bryson’s backyard patio in Parkdale.

Off they went and created a series of interwoven scenes: an earnest young man’s love of the ROM turns critical when he is forced to make a difficult personal choice that would mean saving it from destruction; a woman who is extremely attached to her carved pumpkin finds herself attracted to a friendly neighbour and struggles to love a human being; and a Parkdale neighbourhood feud between ex-in-laws blossoms into attraction between the siblings of the divorced couple.

It was an awesome fun time!

Shouts to the players: Craig Anderson, Jess Bryson, Nick Di Gaetano, Kyle Dooley, Colin Munch (also appearing in Punch Up), Etan Muskat, Paloma Nunez, Evany Rosen, Hannah Spear, Sean Tabares and Anders Yates.

Toronto, I Love You is a big, fun gooey love letter to T.O.

The show continues at the Helen Gardiner until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. Advance tix or lining up early highly recommended for this one too.

FYI: August 11-16, Bad Dog Theatre Company will be celebrating the opening week of its new space at Bloor/Ossington (875 Bloor St. West, above the post office). Go check these guys out – they do nightly shows, as well as classes.

#DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat brings holiday panto fun @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

DICKWITFORMAYOR-POS-ON-LINE-1.21Red Sandcastle Theatre continues its annual tradition of holiday fun for all ages with its musical pantomime #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat.

Co-written by Jane Shields and Rosemary Doyle (who is also Red Sandcastle’s owner and A.D.), all the classic panto characters are here – with a twist and a decidedly local flavour, including some timely jabs at municipal politics. Inspired by Dick Whittington and His Cat, this version is set in two Toronto neighbourhoods at opposite ends of Queen Street, Parkdale and Leslieville (the latter the location of the theatre), and references local Leslieville shops. Drawing from music theatre and current pop music, the cast belts out tunes from the likes of Annie and Katy Perry – to great fun effect.

The energetic, multi-talented cast takes us on a big wacky fun ride as our young hero Dick Whit (played with adorable, wide-eyed optimism by Allison McCaughey) is inspired by the world-wise Vagrant (fierce style and cockney sass from Brenda Somers) to travel from Parkdale to Leslieville to find his fortune. In Leslieville, Dick encounters Jamie Olisfer the Nasty Chef (played with delicious arrogance and a soupcon of evil charm by Taran Beaty) and his employer the Widow Twankie (Phil Luzi, gloriously larger than life in a series of stunning bright pink wigs) – and Dick’s luck begins to change for the better. That is, until he’s kept up all night by the awesome moves and super-energized go-getter ‘tude of tap dancing brother and sister act King Rat (Andrew Prashad, who brings a lovely sense of verve and naiveté) and Queen Rat (Sarah Murphy-Dyson, who rounds out her performance with an adorably sweet insecurity). Coming to Dick’s rescue is the Cat, an audience favourite at all of Red Sandcastle’s pantos (played by Jackie English with unflappable nerve, cocky charm and cat-like agility), who provides a unique solution to the rat problem. And, of course, the nasty Chef has a disgustingly evil plot and our stalwart hero Dick manages to thwart it with the help of his friends.

With shouts to SM Deborah Ann Frankel, who’s stage managed every panto at Red Sandcastle Theatre, for running sound and lights, and keeping it all together.

You have two more chances to join in the fun at #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his… Cat – today (Sat, Jan 4) at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. All happening at Leslieville storefront theatre Red Sandcastle Theatre – 922 Queen St. East (north side, just east of Logan, next to Ed’s Real Scoop).