It’s tough to be a girl, especially when you’ve got world domination on the mind. So claims Shevil, the comic-book musical playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse during Toronto Fringe, about a female supervillain and her struggles against good and the sexist world she lives in. What’s even worse, though, is to see the genuine potential in such a strong premise mostly go to waste.
I really, really wanted to like Shevil. It’s got a super fun premise, a solid songbook, and some fun comic-book-y staging. Despite that, and despite the able efforts of the cast, who are not at all untalented, Shevil really didn’t work for me on any level.
Shevil lives in the city of Peril, where the entire population seems unable to comprehend the mere idea of a woman being actually capable of doing anything except getting married. “But you’re a girl!” is a common refrain, not just from the cartoonishly sexist mayor (literally every line of dialogue emphasizes what a misogynist he is) but from other women as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s winking really hard all the while, revelling in its own absurdity, but that’s just it: it’s too absurd, too over-the-top, and too old fashioned in its approach to lampooning gender that it just ends up feeling… out of touch.
Look: sexism isn’t dead, far from it. But in 2015, when you have Hilary Clinton running for president of the United States, it’s just hard to buy into Shevil’s sledgehammer-to-the-face approach to gender. It’s not that it’s offensive or anything, it’s just sort of clunky all around—we’ve seen the “I’m not just a girl!” storyline before, and by now, it’s played out. The targets here are made so broad that hitting them becomes meaningless.
Not only that, but female supervillains aren’t exactly unheard of in the comic world (Posion Ivy, Harley Quinn, Emma Frost, to name a few). So the gag that nobody respects Shevil because she’s a girl supervillain feels inauthentic to the comic-inspired universe to begin with. (Maybe the joke could have been that everybody expects supervillains to be sultry sexpots?)
One bit of stagework I did like were the comic book panels that were occasionally used for exposition purposes. This is a really clever, oddball bit of staging that’s both funny and useful, but often these panels would be held up behind an actor or set down on the floor so that I couldn’t read them in my seat in the middle of the theatre, with so many heads in front of me. Just a little higher and this is a great touch!
As I mentioned above, it has an able and talented cast, and everyone is giving a hundred and ten percent. I also won’t pretend that I didn’t get a good laugh here and there, and the audience, it must be noted, got more than that. The songs are also solid. It’s really not that Shevil doesn’t have potential, it’s just that it doesn’t really do anything interesting with what it’s got, and that’s what’s most frustrating of all.
- Shevil: the Musical plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.
- Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only.
- Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online , by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West).
- Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
- LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
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