THE UNENDING, a collection of three short site-specific plays now running at the Toronto Fringe Festival, has a lot of buzz going for it. It’s presented by Convergence Theatre, the minds behind the smash Fringe hits The Gladstone Variations and Autoshow.
The show begins at the well-loved Aunties and Uncles diner, moving to two other “secret” locations. The playwrights are legends August Strindberg and Samuel Beckett, as well as Convergence founder Julie Tepperman. This time, it seems the buzz is justified — and not just because there’s free cake; Convergence continues its reign of well-staged, thoughtful shows in intriguing locations.
THE UNENDING presents three plays that are different stylistically, but linked by a shared theme of infidelity and the power even its perception can have to wreak an unending hell on human lives. Can we come out the stronger for it, the plays ask, or will we be trapped forever in a tormenting feedback loop of our own making?
Site-specific shows are terrific fun, because there’s so much potential interactivity. Here, particularly when you’re travelling, everything in the neighbourhood adds to the show; well-placed graffiti, a man playing guitar in his garage, that abandoned pitcher, streetside. A character speaks of the sound of a lawnmower, and there’s an answering putter from a motorcycle.
As we walk, interstitial, interweaving text delivered by our mysterious guide (Sheila Ingabire-Isaro), suggests the need to go on and the necessity of using our words to do so, though a torrent of words seems to stymie the characters as much as silence. The show plays with the idea of words and silences; either characters can’t (or won’t) begin to speak, or they can’t (or won’t) stop.
The first play, Strindberg’s The Stronger, is very arch and controlled, as a chance meeting in a café becomes a one-sided confrontation between a director’s wife and his mistress. Tepperman, as the wife, radiates a brittle, predatory intensity, even (particularly) when smiling. The intimate, retro upstairs of Aunties and Uncles (and Tepperman’s adaptation) updates the 1889 work into a 1950s-era tale. Choose your seat carefully; I sat behind Mayko Nguyen, so I couldn’t see her face and reactions, but on the other hand, I got the full force of Tepperman’s performance.
Beckett’s Play, featuring the stories of all three sides of an unpleasant affair, is by far the most stylized work of the three. With the feel of the underworld, its language, location and set design are all wonderfully claustrophobic (unless you’re actually claustrophobic, in which case you may want to take some deep breaths). It’s a fiendishly difficult text that moves at a breakneck pace (it was easy to forgive the few called lines) as each character relives his or her involvement via spotlight-inquisitor. Andy Trithardt, mostly a bit player in the peripheral installments, gets to take centre stage here, his choking gasps and small moments of dark humour briefly easing the relentless onslaught.
Tepperman’s piece (What Doesn’t Kill You…), the most modern and naturalistic, bookends the first play and ties the show together with a matching confession. This time, we hear from the “other woman,” but the story’s a little more complicated than that. Nguyen is just absolutely stellar in this, full of vulnerability and adrenaline, and if she doesn’t break your heart, you might want to get it checked out.
The show ran a few minutes long opening night, which may come into play if you are trying to tightly pack your schedule. It’s worth finding room, though, because there are theatrical surprises, design gems, and excellent performances to be discovered. The only question is how long before it’s completely sold out, and your chance to see THE UNENDING ends.
- THE UNENDING THE STRONGER, PLAY, WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU…(3 short plays) plays at Aunties & Uncles. (74 Lippincott St.)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warning: Mature Language
- Thursday June 30th, 07:00 pm
- Thursday June 30th, 09:15 pm
- Friday July 1st, 07:00 pm
- Friday July 1st, 09:15 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 09:15 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 07:00 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 09:15 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 07:00 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 09:15 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 07:00 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 09:15 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 07:00 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 09:15 pm
- Friday July 8th, 07:00 pm
- Friday July 8th, 09:15 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 07:00 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 09:15 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 07:00 pm
Photo of Julie Tepperman, Andy Trithardt and Mayko Nguyen by Neil Silcox