A musical journey of self-discovery, Pieces of Me is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille
I love musicals, but they’re tricky beasts. I love how effortlessly they can whisk me away to the land of melodrama, to a place where it doesn’t seem weird for people to drop their briefcases and burst into song, yet they can so easily become awkward or ridiculous. There are many moments in Deon Denton’s Pieces of Me (which opened last night at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace) that transported me with whimsical abandon, but they are sometimes disjointed from the rest of the action.
I enjoyed the flashy dance numbers, but spent most of the first act rather discomfited regardless. The songs are not, in my opinion, particularly memorable. They are uptempo and fun, but they are bouncy even during the story’s gloomy patches which disrupts the emotional reality the songs should enhance. But deeper than that, I found the implications of the story itself—at first, anyway—quite troubling.
Pamela (Shahi Teruko) and Parker (Sheldon Neil) have been married for seven years and they seem to have the perfect life. Their marriage begins to unravel when Pamela yearns for the excitement of her former life as a prostitute. As Parker, the epitome of a “good guy”, struggles to become the youngest partner in the firm and secure a life for the two of them, Pamela secretly indulges in her old habits.
This is what I found troubling: Her great dilemma is whether to be a wife or a whore. These are, the story suggests, the only modes of being possible for her. I desperately wanted her to read a book, meet some people, and discover the many facets of life that could define her as an actual person. I’m supposed to believe that Parker fell in love with her, so who is she?
But then, the second act surprised me. Pamela seeks the guidance of a counselor and begins a journey of self-discovery. Dark secrets from her childhood that had been festering are brought to light. There is much talk of god, divine purpose, and the waywardness that comes from not understanding your life’s purpose. We discover what prevented Pamela from becoming a fully realized person.
Pamela faces her demons in what I consider to be the only scene of real drama: a confrontation with the memory of the caregiver who forced her, as a child, into prostitution. I was surprised by the power of this moment, having been lulled into a mild boredom by many scenes that only scratched the surface of character and emotion. Here, though, we are shown how destitution and the struggle for survival can harden someone’s heart, making them hurtful and damaging to a child’s sense of self. We then understand how Pamela became the train-wreck of an adult we see before us.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say this: it is genuinely hopeful and not in the saccharine way I had been expecting. Also, much to my relief, the wife/whore dichotomy turns out to be a symptom of Pamela’s mental illness rather than the crux of her identity.
Awkwardly, Denton’s writing and direction strives to provide both a kitchen-sink drama and an over-the-top spectacle, but it doesn’t negotiate these two extremes very well. Most of the time, I preferred the spectacle. I was particularly impressed by Nicole Hamilton’s very ambitious—downright gymnastic—choreography. There were moments when I was sure somebody was going to end up in my lap.
The second act runs longer than necessary and could stand to lose some redundant musical numbers. The songs rarely reveal character or advance narrative and so, when there is no dancing to keep things upbeat, they do slow the action down.
The performances have the razzle-dazzle you’d expect from a musical comedy. The personalities portrayed are broad, yet electric. The vocals are exceptional, despite some microphone problems. I must give a shout-out to my favourite performer of the night: Crystal Neil is perfectly charming as the Narrator. She stays firmly rooted in spectacle, yet comes across oddly sincere. With her sexy red-velvet ringmaster’s outfit, she MCs the evening as if it’s a cheeky burlesque show.
All things considered, I left the theatre in good spirits. If you’d like to catch some talented people singing and dancing up a storm, check out Pieces of Me before it ends on November 30.
- Pieces of Me is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave.) until November 30
- Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, with additional matinees on Saturday at 2pm
- Tickets are 32.50 (Regular), $27.50 (Seniors and Arts Workers) and Advance matinee tickets for $20 or PWYC at the door.
- Tickets can be purchased online at artsboxoffice.ca, by phone at 416-504-7529, or at the door
Photo of Sheldon Neil and Shahi Teruko provided by the company.