The Hum (A Theatre Gargantua SideStream Cycle with the GzAp Collective), playing at SummerWorks 2015, is a sweet family show about the magic inherent in the natural environment around us. It’s presented by venerable Toronto company Theatre Gargantua, created by and starring Julia Aplin, John Gzowski, and their ten-year-old daughter, Jenny Aplin.
The show was inspired by Jenny’s paintings, and tries to tap into the hum of the Earth. Much like a ten-year-old kid, though, it’s a show that has high aspirations (and a promising opening monologue) but doesn’t quite know what it wants to be yet.
We are warmly greeted as we enter the theatre space and the family plays in what appears to be their living room. This mitigates the feeling of intrusiveness the intimacy between the actors engenders; it feels like we’re barging in on a quiet family moment.
The mood and scenes of the show are informal, coming together in a mosaic that’s not entirely cohesive. It’s a set of ambling vignettes as the family travels on their camping trip, adding to the sensation that we are voyeurs to these voyageurs.
There’s a natural quietness and looseness about the performances, which is at the same time appealing and frustrating. It’s congenial but tentative, particularly during the singing that is woven throughout the piece. I’d love to hear more of the words of the less-familiar songs. Theatre Gargantua is known for its physical work, and the movement here is technically impressive, but separated from the text.
The Hum might benefit from a site-specific setting. In a traditional theatre space, it seems unpolished, and we may question its overall purpose more thoroughly. The show, taking up 40 minutes of its 60-minute time slot, creates more of these questions than it can answer.
Props, set (Michael Spence) and costumes (Julia Aplin and Kelley Aiken) are used inventively; there’s thoughtful colour-coordination between mother and daughter, a couch-canoe, a paddle-sitar, and a terrifying tree whose revelation is delightfully surprising.
Jenny, in her first professional appearance, is a charming performer when she’s more naturally being herself, particularly when she is excitedly telling us about snails, dancing in an echo of her mother, or goofing off with her father in a scene that may have caused this only daughter of two wonderfully goofy parents to tear up. The more self-consciously performative parts feel forced.
The show succeeds in its innovative use of technology, but that very fact raises troubling questions. There are projections of Jenny’s tablet paintings as she creates them. Then, a score of different drawings and words emphatically interact with the action on stage, and Siri gets big laughs.
But this is a show about connecting with the wonders of nature, reminding us that, after briefly disconnecting in the woods, city life seems very strange. With that in mind, why flood the stage with technology, and divert attention with a screen? A moment where the screen disappeared to reveal some purely theatrical magic was so welcome, I couldn’t stop thinking about the difference. Maybe that was the point.
The Hum gives us a lot of love on stage, an open-ended structure, and an awesome evolutionary spin on a child’s hand-clapping game. Whether you feel the hum or just the “hmm” is up to you.
The Hum plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue.
- Monday August 10th 4:45 PM
- Sunday August 16th 2:00 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo of Jenny Aplin, John Gzowski and Julia Aplin provided by rockitpromo