Like a Generation explores the social impact of media on stage in Toronto
People invest a lot in the media they consume as kids: the stories, the characters, and the ideas. Coyote Collective’s Like a Generation playing at Dancemakers Studio 313 wonders if those same stories don’t somehow invest in us: in our lives, our characters, and our ideas.
Like a Generation is a unique investigation of how and why media impacts us the way it does, and whether that influence and relationship is healthy.
One day, barista Anna (Susannah Mackay) impulsively gives her customer, Calvin (Eric Welch), her phone number resulting in a date. The two bond over their shared love of television specifically the children’s show Mr. Flowers (Stephen Joffe). Little do they know that Mr. Flowers the character is equally invested in their own blossoming romance, watching it from the other side of the screen.
Anna and Calvin border the cliché at times as characters. Anna is an embittered do-gooder who is disillusioned with the world while Calvin is awkward, always saying the wrong thing, and seems quite happy with the status quo . Mackay and Welch take these figures and really play up their flaws in a way that pokes nicely at the limits of a character.
This is, after all, a show about how we see the world in relation to the media we consume. Mackay’s Anna doesn’t know what she really wants or how to get there but that’s the point: in real life there are no neat little bows.
Which is probably why the ending was a real let down as there were multiple ones which tends to be problematic in a play. There are two wrap-ups that I thought worked nicely, one ambiguous, and one with a direct address to the audience and a touching tableau, which was my preference. Unfortunately the third and final ending was so against the grain of what came before that I thought it was trite.
When I say what comes before, I mean the strange blending of the television world with the real world. Because, to be honest, the show really belongs to Mr. Flowers. Joffe brings to life a figure that is equal parts nightmare and nostalgia. He really embodies those strange “kids show” hosts who don’t quite fit in when you see them as an adult.
Seriously, he’s fantastic.
Sometimes he dances around with his disturbing yet hilarious chorus (played by Cameron Buttrum, Erin Eldershaw, Jessie Garon, and Chin Palipane), peddling drugs to children. Other times he floats as a demonic image on a screen, watching Anna and Calvin have sex. And then there are the moments where he’s reduced to frustration over his growing obsolescence resulting from the cancellation of his show.
My favorite scene had to be when Flowers interviews himself. At first it plays absurdly as Joffe turns from side to side, asking and answering himself. Then, all of a sudden, he delivers a powerful, twisted, angry commentary about his love for his audience, the kids he helps through his program, and why shouldn’t he be obsessed with Anna and Calvin? Doesn’t he deserve to be invested?
It’s a moment that sticks long after the show is over because, honestly, if our childhood TV shows could lament, isn’t that what they’d say? And this is Like a Generation‘s sweet spot. The idea is fantastic and the process of exploring is a lot of fun to watch.
I mean the design, everything from the lights (by Rebecca Vandevelde) to the sound (by Aaron Corbett with Ned Gordon composing) works. The world of Mr. Flowers is full of colour and delightful song whereas the real world is slightly drab, a little too normal and insignificant.
That doesn’t make Like a Generation perfect. Some of the quieter scenes between Mackay and Welch are very slow and there are two exchanges that felt redundant to me. These aren’t insurmountable criticisms but they definitely stood out.
- Like a Generation plays until September 27th at the Dancemakers Studio 313 (15 Case Goods Lane in the Distillery District)
- Show runs until Saturday at 7:30 pm with a final matinee Sunday September 27th at 2:00 pm
- Tickets are $15 for students and $25 general admission
- Tickets can be purchased prior to the performance at the box office or online here
Photo of Stephen Joffe by Max Tepper