I have been to numerous productions that have successfully immersed me in Toronto’s rich and exciting history. For example, Single Thread Theatre Company does a particularly excellent job at submersing audiences in site-specific stories. In these works, locations such as Spadina House, Fort York and Mackenzie House are exhumed and brought back to life for the latest generation of Torontonians.
With these in mind, I jumped at the chance to see a play that supposedly takes Toronto’s historical artifacts (newspapers, photographs, advertisements etc.) and blends them with fiction to create “an original tale of nineteenth-century Toronto life.”
Unfortunately, what I received felt more like visiting a Great Aunt who insists on telling you her life story whether you want her to or not.
From what I could gather, the audience plays the role of Mr. Francis Petrie, who has arrived at River Reach, the dilapidated family home of Mrs. James Berry (Jessica Gardiner). Mrs. Barry welcomes Mr. Petrie (the audience) who wishes to restore the home and turn it into a heritage site.
This could have been an exciting tale of intrigue – there’s a part about an illegitimate sister in there somewhere. Unfortunately, I felt it suffered from a lack of structure, range and visual elements.
Gardiner’s script emphasizes things like the weather on a certain July day but downplays stories of her failed marriage and family’s untimely death of influenza.
Writer, director and one-woman star Jessica Gardiner appeared ill prepared and undirected at last night’s premier. Her impressions of other characters felt lacklustre and her cadence monotonous. As a result, I wasn’t engaged with the story at all.
I enjoyed the projections of antique photos on which the story was based; however, the sheet they were projected on was small, imbalanced and wrinkled, and made it difficult to make out the images.
Overall, At Home is not a fully fleshed out production. I don’t believe a one-woman show was the right medium for this tale, and while I applaud the concept, I feel like much more work is needed to bring Gardiner’s vision of 19th Century Toronto to life.
- At Home is playing until July 12 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George St.)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
Show times and dates:
July 03 at 08:45 PM
July 04 at 11:00 PM
July 05 at 06:15 PM
July 08 at 12:00 PM
July 09 at 11:15 PM
July 10 at 01:45 PM
July 12 at 04:00 PM
Photo provided by the company.