The Stage Manager’s Guide to Dating Assholes (What She Said Theatre) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Stage ManagerThe Stage Manager’s Guide to Dating Assholes ticks all my boxes: this Fringe satire about gender and power dynamics is hilarious, biting, political, and uncomfortably prescient. But coming into it, I was worried: what if it’s too theatrical? I am a stage manager; I know what to expect; will the public connect with it?

So I brought a friend who’d never worn a headset in her life — and she laughed, and laughed, and squirmed, and laughed. She got it, and she loved it — and you will, too.

Playwright and director Scarlett Larry’s script defies easy description or framing. Her characters are vivid and evocative, her laugh lines are slap-your-knee hilarious, and she pulls no punches with her politics. There are some creaky moments (in particular, one or two places where it feels like a character gets focus mostly because it’s “their turn”), but the pace runs at a bracing clip — which can balm over a lot of sins.

The three core stage managers (SMs), each embodying a different approach to the job, play extremely well together: Katie Coseni (as the Drill Sergeant SM) works her moments for all they’re worth; Jemma Robinson (the Cheerleader SM) counterbalances her perfectly, lifting both performances higher; and Shannon Farrell (the Incompetent SM), playing the most down-to-earth of the characters, keeps the show grounded and real: the others are total caricatures, but we all know this woman.

Alex Allan, as the pretentious and predatory director, hits the tricky balance between creepy and silly: too much of either would wreck the character (and the show!), but he’s right on the money. And Catherine Fergusson, playing a sort of fairy godmother, is written so tightly and acted so well — Fergusson is the kind of actor who can make the audience laugh with just a glance — that it’s almost disappointing we don’t get to see her rocking a solo show.

There’s a sixth character, and the name’s in the playbill if you want to check — but don’t spoil this for yourself. It’s the best surprise of the show, and you’re missing out if you know precisely what’s coming. Trust me on this one.

There are problems. A mid-show song-and-dance number is playful and necessary, but I thought it was overly-ambitious: something smaller and tighter (and more audible!) would have gone down better. The audience participation segment is funny, but I think it needs to be reworked to link in better with the tone and thrust of the rest of the show. And after all the attention paid to a very specific prop, the fact that the payoff is entirely offstage is disappointing.

But at its core, this is a solid show: it’s as funny, as clever, as trenchant and as political as you’d hope it might be. Anyone who’s ever worked backstage (professionally, as a student, in community theatre…) will recognize themselves, and others, in this piece — and even if you’ve no idea what “LX 1 Go” means, the humour, heart and purpose on display will make the 45 minutes fly by.

Details

  • The Stage Managers Guide to Dating Assholes plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. (30 Bridgman Ave)
  • All tickets are $12, and can be purchased 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 Warnings: Audience Participation, Mature Language, Sexual Content.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible.

Performances

  • Saturday July 2nd, 12:00 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 11:00 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 08:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 03:30 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 11:15 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 05:45 pm

Photograph of Catherine Fergusson by Alex Cassels.