SummerWorks Play Review: Eurydice, August 8

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Toronto – Is it weird that there seems to be great interest in ancient plays and myths in SummerWorks? Two years ago it was Gilgamesh, last year it was Iphigenia at Aulis, and this year there’s not one, but three: there’s Hero & Leander (which I haven’t seen but have heard good things about), there’s ONE, and there’s this show, which, like ONE, revisits the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Rather than being a total re-interpretation, Eurydice tells the story from the point of view of the title character; of course, Eurydice’s most notable feature in this myth is that she’s dead.

She doesn’t start off dead, though, so there’s a handful of scenes at the start of Eurydice about her and Orpheus’s love. Caitlin Driscoll and Justin Rutledge have a nice chemistry as the titular pair, and they certainly seem like a sweet couple. There’s an interesting monologue just before the two are married from Eurydice’s father (Hardee Lineham), who does start off the show dead, and pens some marriage advice, then tries to figure out how to get it to his daughter from down below.

It’s the father-daughter relationship that makes up a lot of the meat of the play, particularly after Eurydice dies, and much of it is very sweet. Through some quirk of fate, Eurydice’s father is the only one in hell who can read and write, and one of the few who remembers much about his life on the surface. Eurydice doesn’t recognize him at first, but eventually his words get through to her. Meanwhile, Orpheus is writing his own letters, and finding ways to get them to his beloved (“I’ll give this letter to a worm. I hope he finds you”).

Like all tellings of Orpheus and Eurydice, it doesn’t end particularly happily. There are some nice touches that make it seem like a hopeful story, though, and the attention to some of the details of the original myth make me smile. Most notable among these is Orpheus as the finest musician in the land, which makes the casting of local Toronto musician Rutledge particularly enjoyable. He favours the audience with a couple of songs, which are some of the highlights of the show.

Even the minor characters, the Lord of the Underworld (Jesse Aaron Dwyre) and the “three stones” (Elliott Loran, Moira Dunphy and Elley-Ray Hennessy) do a nice job with limited stage time. It’s a very well put together show and thoroughly enjoyable.

Eurydice runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

SummerWorks Play Review: Third Floor, August 9

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Toronto – I suspect that most people who’ve lived in a condo or apartment building or similar shared space have had a neighbour they don’t really know who does something that bugs them. I actually don’t so much at the building I’m in now, except for the old couple next door who scream at each other in Greek most evenings.

In Third Floor, the problem for the unnamed residents of condo 11 (Kristian Bruun) and condo 12 (Kaitlyn Riordan), respectively, is that the unseen woman who lives in 10 keeps leaving her trash bags out into the hallway. This leads to a series of sitcom-ish interactions between 11 and 12 for the first half of the show as they get to know each other better every time they bump into each other in the hall and debate what to do about the lady and her trash. What to do outside of knocking on the door and talking to her about it, of course, because that would be too easy, and would mean scary direct confrontation.

The two do a bit of bonding watching Alfred Hitchcock movies together, which I suppose is foreshadowing for the Hitchcock-type turn the plot takes in the second half. 11 goes more than a little crazy, 12 gets caught up in it, they end up in a bit of a conspiracy thing together, and no one ends up very happy.

It’s not bad, mostly because Bruun and Riordan do quite well in their respective roles. Director Ashlie Corcoran and playwright Jason Hall would really like the show to be a lot like Rear Window, particularly in the way it shows the passage of time, but there’s just not enough going on here to justify that kind of pacing. Rear Window keeps you guessing and in every scene, even the briefest ones, something happens that makes you wonder “did he do it?” Here, all that happens in the briefest scenes is the lady in condo 10 throws out another bag of trash. The juxtaposition of the quirky, light first half with the tense intrigue of the second works well, but the first half shares the same problem: there’s a lot of scenes with cute Friends-like dialogue, but there’s just not enough going on here to justify all these scenes taking up that much time. Add some kind of subplot or three or delete about a half hour from the show’s 75 minutes run time and this likely becomes a much better show.

Third Floor runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

SummerWorks Play Review: Long Dark Night, August 8

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Toronto – You know, there’s probably as many parodies of the gritty, hard-boiled private eye stories as there are gritty, hard-boiled private eye stories. Long Dark Night is certainly one of them.

I’m sure you know the setup. A gritty, hard-boiled private eye is in his office drinking bourbon when a leggy femme fatale enters with a case: her husband has been murdered, so he has to meet with a series of unsavoury characters to solve the crime, only to be double-crossed a few times before things are finally resolved in the end.

In Long Dark Night, most of the satire is not exactly subtle. The PI character’s name is Skip Tracer; the femme fatale’s name is Femme Fatale (pronounced “FAY-tah-lay” in the show). It’s full of goofy puns, like one character being named Tuesday Mae, same as her mother and her mother’s mother, making her Tuesday Mae the Third. It makes a few winking mentions of old noir actors and settings when the characters reference things like “the corner of Sidney and Green Street” and go to the Tit Tat Club.

Aside from some of the puns (and there are some real groaners) and silly accents, there are some decent jokes here. John McNeill is pretty good as the bumbling, drunken PI. He’s sometimes overshadowed by Jessica Moss as his assistant Irene, even if her shrill, nasally voice gets a bit grating at times.

But a lot of the jokes are…well…kind of dumb. A couple of bits just get beaten into the ground. And the songs…the lyrics to all but a couple of the songs are quite insipid, and not to put too fine a point on it, but singing is not really this cast’s strong point. Having a live keyboardist and drummer on stage is occasionally an asset, but overall neither the live background tunes nor the musical numbers really add anything. The pace of the show is pretty slow, and for as much space as the slide projector and screen take up on stage, the backgrounds it projects don’t create a lot in the way of atmosphere.

With a parody target that’s been done well so many times before (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, for one, my personal favourite noir/gumshoe parody), this just doesn’t stand out, and it would need a lot of polish before I’d recommend it.

Long Dark Night runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

SummerWorks Play Review: Combat, August 6

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Toronto – I suppose that at some point in your career you might think of some conflict in your workplace in terms of a war. Maybe some passive aggressive type two cubicles over plays their music too loud, like they’re firing a hail of bullets over your head, or there’s a woman who acts abnormally sweet but is secretly hating everyone in the office and one day explodes like a grenade into screaming fragments of neuroses.

It’s not too difficult a metaphor to grasp. Combat drives it home by occasionally disrupting the action at a Shopping Network call centre with the actors setting up and playing war with toy soldiers on stage. Lead Virgilia Griffith plays the “rookie” at the call centre, and quickly becomes a little too good at her job, irritating her more competitive, chatty co-worker and inflaming the already tense workplace environment that also includes chatty guy’s underappreciated girlfriend, their well-meaning but cloying boss, and their emotionally fragile operator. Griffith also breaks in occasionally with a monologue where she’s arguing with her supervisors at another job, where she tries (but fails) to point out how bad the idea of planting pomegranite trees in Canada is. While she’s doing this, the other actors continue to set up plastic army men; they also sometimes army crawl around the stage and break into some contemporary dance-type moves that seem somehow combat-like.

Combat kind of hammers this workplace conflict-as-combat thing home repeatedly, but the action at the call centre is entertaining, particularly the hysterics of the emotionally fragile operator (Lisa Codrington) and the charm-turned-frustration of the chatty co-worker (Dylan Smith). The transitions from monologue to call centre to dance scene are sometimes a bit jarring and occasionally it feels like the playing with plastic army men on stage goes on a bit too long and belabours the point (ok, workplaces are like combat sometimes, I get it). It’s not a bad show, though, and worth a look.

Combat runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.