Rowing (Chrysalis Workshop) 2016 Toronto Fringe Review

after-party scene, with two people passed out and a third with raised fists

Rowing by Chrysalis Workshop is playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, in the site specific venue of a creepy unfinished basement accessed via an alleyway in Kensington Market. In it, a sad group of rowers who has garnered the first loss in their team’s 51 years of existence, attempts to throw a party and livestream it to raise money for charity.

The embarrassing nature of their defeat – they capsized their boat – and their interpersonal tensions and individual anxieties lead the event down a dark road. The team leader, Marc, storms off to do some nefarious deed of revenge against the winning team; the lanky mechanic Rick plots to win back the heart of his ex by manipulating the idealistic young Jake; it is Jake’s nineteenth birthday and all he wants is to raise money for his depressive father’s failing charity; and Howie is only interested in attracting buxom ladies.

Into this stew of testosterone strides Chris, a woman who used to row with them and had a liaison with Marc before switching teams. As the ensuing psychological drama unfolds, the characters drink too much and play games both literally (twister and spin the bottle) and figuratively.

The actors inhabit their characters fully in the intimate space and when violence erupts it feels both shocking and inevitable. The script is tight enough that the ninety minutes fly by and only once did I hear the cry of disbelief (“why wouldn’t they just call the cops right now?”) in my mind before I suspended it for the pleasure of watching the play.

A few moments of the stage fighting are compromised by the audience’s closeness and the row seating but it is mostly very effective, and an ongoing torture of Marc was particularly brutal to watch. (I liked this, but some viewers may want to beware.)

It was interesting to see a fairly obscure sport (to me, at least) as something very powerful for these characters, and continuously linked with their foibles and eventual moments of grace.

It’s a very male-centric show, but it deals with toxic masculinity. I wish it had been a bit more nuanced in places. Specifically, the character who beats up his friends and threatens Chris with rape is presented to be such due to an overbearing and undermining mother who leaves haranguing messages on his cell phones. The cause of rape is not bad mothers, and I wish this play, with its overall excellence, hadn’t fallen back on that misogynist trope.

Rowing is a finely wrought, gritty downward spiral of a show, yet with an ending that is neither desolate nor pat. I found it very satisfying.

Details

  • Rowing plays at the Kensington Conference Centre. (56 Kensington Ave.)
  • 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 Warnings: Realistic Violence or Gore, Mature Language.

Performances

  • Thursday June 30th, 08:00 pm
  • Friday July 1st, 08:00 pm
  • Saturday July 2nd, 08:00 pm
  • Sunday July 3rd, 08:00 pm
  • Monday July 4th, 08:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 5th, 08:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 6th, 08:00 pm
  • Thursday July 7th, 08:00 pm
  • Friday July 8th, 08:00 pm
  • Saturday July 9th, 08:00 pm
  • Sunday July 10th, 08:00 pm

Photo provided by the company

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