Common Ground (Smags Productions) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

Common Ground

Common Ground, playing at this years Toronto Fringe Festival, depicts four unlikely strangers who are caught in the backroom of a corner store during a robbery-turned-hostage situation . Stuck in the small space, they discuss their lives, their struggles and aspirations, and ultimately find commonality.

A robbery has taken place in a downtown corner store in broad daylight. The three people in the store get locked in the back room — Lawrence (Cameron Grant) the black male store employee eager to get home to his pregnant wife, Christina (Susan Finlayson) the older lesbian feminist paralegal, and Shira (Mishka Balilty) the young female Israeli soldier — and with nothing to do except pass the time, they talk. Later on, a fourth hostage is thrown into the mix, Julianna (Margarita Valderrama), a young single mom of two, struggling and desperate to make ends meet.

What takes place is a thought provoking political discussion on racial profiling, feminism, fighting for what you believe in, and financial struggle. The content leaves plenty of room for social commentary that I wanted to get more invested in, but I simply could not bring myself to like the show.

For me, it came down to the writing — the dialogue was disjointed and cumbersome. I felt that it couldn’t have seemed more scripted even if the writers tried, and it did not sound like natural speech- especially in a high stress hostage situation. Each revelation came across like a speech delivered to a high school class, and because of this I couldn’t lose myself in the rest of the story.

I also found the acting stiff across the board, which could have also been a result of the unnatural and often times awkward writing. Even the technical aspects didn’t gel with me. To me, the lighting cues also felt unnatural (I understand the flashing blue and red lights as from the police cars outside but why did the room lights need to blink?), and the robber’s voice booming from the front felt unnecessarily loud.

I believe that Common Ground could use some rewriting and polishing around the edges for it to shine up into a fine piece of theatre. Until then, it’s definitely not something I’d recommend.

Details

  • Common Ground plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. (79 St. George 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.
  • This venue is wheelchair-accessible.

Performances

  • Sunday July 3rd, 08:00 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 02:45 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 02:15 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 06:00 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 09:15 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 12:00 pm

Photo of Susan Magerman, Margarita Valderrama, Mishka Balilty, Susan Finlayson, Cameron Grant, Julie-Rae King by Zamy Bayer.