Absurd, uncomfortable & ultimately human interactions in the darkly funny, unsettling Little Menace: Pinter Plays

Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye, Gregory Prest & Maev Beaty. Set & costume design by Shannon Lea Doyle. Lighting design by Simon Rossiter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Soulpepper opened its darkly funny, unsettling buffet of short Pinter plays at the Young Centre last night with Harold Pinter’s Little Menace: Pinter Plays, directed by Thomas Moschopoulos; and featuring 10 short pieces played out in 14 scenes over the course of 90 minutes. The short, pointed examinations of human interaction are at times absurd, uncomfortable and even surreal—and, in the end, ultimately human.

Little Menace: Pinter Plays features Trouble in the Works, Last to Go, Special Offer, That’s Your Trouble, New World Order, Victoria Station, Apart from That, The Press Conference, The Basement and Night; New World Order appears twice, switching up the actors and the scenario, and Apart from That is played out in four variations, aptly bookending the performance. The impressive four-member ensemble includes Maev Beaty, Diego Matamoros, Alex McCooeye and Gregory Prest.

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Alex McCooeye & Gregory Prest. Set & costume design by Shannon Lea Doyle. Lighting design by Simon Rossiter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Ranging from the bizarre in the hilarious mundanity of the workplace in Trouble in the Works (played with bang-on dead pan and impressive articulation by Matamoros and Prest) and the unlikely but tempting weirdness of Special Offer (a wry, incredulous Beaty, playing a high-level professional); to the sharply funny failures to communicate in Apart from That (all four actors, in four different pairings of beautifully awkward, polite exchanges where no one really says anything) and the ‘Who’s on First’ vibe between dispatcher and taxi driver in Victoria Station (Matamoros as the gruff dispatcher at his wit’s end and McCooeye as the child-like, simple driver), Little Menace highlights the awkwardness and missed connections in our day-to-day communication.

The discomfiting scenarios of personal and political dominance in The Basement (ensemble), the menace of terrible things to come in New World Order (McCooeye and Prest in a thuggish turn that goes from darkly funny to plain dark when they switch up roles and include Matamoros as a hostage in the second incarnation), and the sharply funny satire of a civil servant working in the culture sector in Press Conference (featuring a chilling matter-of-fact Matamoros as the civil servant) look at the darker sides of human connection. And the lovely nostalgia of Night highlights how even cherished reminiscences between a loving couple (Beaty and Matamoros, in a beautifully quiet, intimate performance) can be mixed up or forgotten altogether.

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Diego Matamoros & Maev Beaty. Set & costume design by Shannon Lea Doyle. Lighting design by Simon Rossiter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Stellar, compelling performances from the ensemble in this intimate, often raw series of short plays—showcasing the range of the talent on stage in performances of authentic nuance and intense rawness. Nicely supported by the sharply modern, sterile—open concept, yet claustrophobic—set and neutral grayscale of the costumes (both designed by Shannon Lea Doyle); and Simon Rossiter’s shadow-casting, modern aesthetic, sometimes intensely interrogative, lighting design.

What’s real? What’s true? What the hell is going on? Even in the most everyday, mundane situations, we’re a strange lot; and there’s a lot that goes on between the lines and in those awkward silences as we get caught up in our own fears and the various eccentricities of our inner worlds. And that’s a huge part of what makes us human.

Little Menace: Pinter Plays continues at the Young Centre until March 10; advance tickets available online, or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.

 

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Preview: $h!t gets real in sharply funny, brutally honest We Three

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Sarah Naomi Campbell, Hallie Burt & Suzette McCanny in We Three – photos by Samantha Hurley

Last night, it was out to Tarragon Theatre for a preview performance of Cue6 Theatre’s latest offering: Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman’s We Three, directed by Jill Harper, with script contributions from Harper, and actors Suzette McCanny, Sarah Naomi Campbell and Hallie Burt.

Toronto roommates Skye (Burt), an alternative education PhD candidate, and Jamie (Campbell), a feminist blogger, are excited to be hosting an intimate dinner party for their university friend Blaire (McCanny), who got married and moved to Calgary two years ago, where she works as a very well-paid executive assistant. Their enthusiasm turns to bewilderment and disappointment when they find their friend has changed a lot – both physically and philosophically – and the anxiously anticipated reunion becomes a mine field as the conversation detours from catch-up to heated debate about feminism, rape culture and being a woman in the 21st century.

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Sarah Naomi Campbell & Suzette McCanny

The writing is smart, edgy, real and very funny – and the performances are strong and beautifully nuanced. Burt’s Skye is an adorkable academic; whip smart, with a fastidious and positive energy (if this were the Odd Couple, she’d be the Felix in the equation), she is intensely loyal to her friends – and her more centrist views put her in the middle of the heated debates, making her the ad hoc mediator/peacemaker. Beyond the chipper Mary Poppins exterior are secrets, as well as reserves of bravery and strength, that her friends can only guess at. Campbell and Burt have excellent chemistry as the long-time friends/roommates – so much so, that there is a married couple vibe between Jamie and Skye. Campbell gives an amazing, multilayered performance as Jamie; smart, cynical and fiercely outspoken (and the Oscar of the household), Jamie is painfully aware of her own inner struggles as she tries to reconcile her feminist beliefs with personal body image issues. McCanny mines the depths beneath the sharp, edgy and ambitious Blaire; deeply immersed in a corporate, conservative world, she perhaps hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid as much as sipped it. She too was anxious and excited to reconnect with old friends – and stunned when the evening doesn’t turn out to be the love-in they were hoping for.

These women have an intensely personal history and a very tight friendship bond. The conversation runs from the ridiculous to the sublime, as they discuss dildos, “Blurred Lines,” university memories and cosmetic surgery. The ferocious debates on feminism, rape culture and womanhood reflect their equally strong love for each other. And they’re fighting tooth and nail – and throwing a living room dance party – to regain a connection they’ve lost, perhaps permanently.

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Hallie Burt & Sarah Naomi Campbell

With shouts to the design team for the lovely and meticulously crafted space and intimate atmosphere for this production: Christine Groom (set/props), Simon Rossiter (lighting) and Tim Lindsay (sound). The empty chair at the dining table (placed at the downstage side of the table) feels like it’s for us, the audience, as we play the fly on the wall to this encounter.

Shit gets real with fierce love, friendship and feminism in sharply funny, brutally honest We Three.

We Three continues at the Tarragon Workspace (aka Studio) till April 17; get your advance tickets here. It’s an intimate space and a popular company, so advance booking strongly recommended.