The premise of the piece To Jane With Love by Promise Productions at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival spent it’s time teetering on the fine line between being a real knockout or a cliche drama, and unfortunately the play delivered the latter.
Playwright and director, Deon Denton, tackled an ambitious storyline in 51 minutes. The play deals with Henry (Geoff Mays), a recovering alcoholic struggling to come to terms with his past, who is confronted by his councillor along with his 10-year-old neighbour, to move on from his traumatic history.
While I would love to reveal what the terrible secret is from Henry’s past, I must leave some surprise for the viewer, although the storyline follows various predictable outcomes so you’ll be able to figure it out soon enough.
The scenes that focused on Henry’s story were intercut with monologues from various group therapy members, which added little to the action taking place in the main plotline. From a narrative viewpoint, inserting random individuals’ experiences of substance abuse does not advance Henry’s agency, it only muddles the main events taking place. The time dedicated to these various monologues would have been better spent on fleshing out Henry’s internal conflict and relationships.
Often when heavy subject matter misses the mark it is because the writer is not truly connecting with the material they are working with. I felt that Henry wasn’t a real person (which in a naturalist play is important) but rather an idea of what an alcoholic is, and a very cliche idea at that. The 10-year-old neighbour, played wonderfully by Aviv Cohen, was the one relationship with Henry that I wish Denton would have explored further. Their scenes together made the characters challenge each other, causing much needed tension, yet their banter was always cut short.
The show is being performed at the Al Green Theatre during the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, which wasn’t the best venue for this drama. The Al Green Theatre is a large theatre house and this play needed a more intimate space to give the emotional aspect of the piece the proper impact. The large theatre left the dialogue hanging dry and the substantial stage for the small cast and set design created a sparseness that detracted from what was occurring in the story. But ultimately, the lack of character development and the obvious story arch rest solely on the play itself.
I left the theatre wanting to ask the writer, why tell this story? Unfortunately, from seeing the play I could not illicit a response to this vital question. When a question about a play’s purpose cannot be answered it understandably leaves me, the viewer, feeling nothing for the character who is in a seemingly tragic situation.
- To Jane With Love with showing at the Al Green Theatre. (750 Spadina Rd.)
- Tickets are $12 and can be bought here or from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never permitted.
- This venue is wheelchair accessible.
- The performances are not accessible for non-English speakers.
- June 30th at 10:30 PM
- July 1st at 8:15 PM
- July 3rd at 5:00 PM
- July 4th at 1:00 PM
- July 7th at 5:45 PM
- July 8th at 8:00 PM
- July 10th at 2:15 PM
Photo provided by Promise Productions.