Wow! Two firsts for me. My first Sky Gilbert play and the first time I’ve seen David Benjamin Tomlinson. The play was Toller playing at Tarragon Theatre Extraspace as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. I loved it. Except for the part I didn’t love.
It’s a beautiful production. The set is gorgeous: a wicker chair draped in long flowing white fabric, a small table with a candelabra, a wine decanter and wineglass, and a small heart-shaped box of chocolates.
Toller Cranston was a Canadian National Figure Skating Champion from 1972 to 1976. He revolutionized men’s figure skating by making it more like dance. He was also a painter, although I think more people are aware of him as a skater. He was flamboyant and tended towards outrageous one-liners in interviews.
I assumed that everyone would know who Cranston was, but my 40 year old daughter didn’t. That was reflected in the audience. I would say that about 75% of us were over 60.
The play is a monologue, a series of stories and vignettes from Cranston’s life. It feels like an impression of Cranston rather than a biography. Think of an incredibly beautiful, gay, tortured, and funny Jane Austen hero and you’ll have an idea of the way that Tomlinson plays Toller.
The language is beautiful too. Very formal, very precise, and very extravagant. Again, it made me think of Jane Austen. It’s almost musical and a bit hypnotic. Early in the show Tomlinson, as Cranston, says “ I have a florid way of talking.” I don’t think that Cranston was ever that precise.
Tomlinson is an amazing actor. He acts with his entire body. He uses the draped fabric to signal a change of topic. He shakes it and drapes it differently. Sometimes it’s funny but sometimes it’s frustrated, or angry. He cries real tears. So did a lot of people in the audience. It was a nice change to not feel like I was the only person crying.
The part I didn’t like was the ending. There was nothing in the rest of the show that suggested that was where it was headed. It felt as if it was there for the shock value. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know.
I don’t think it matters whether or not you know who Toller Cranston was, you can still see Toller and love it, like I did. It’s a beautiful play; the language, the acting, the set, everything.
- TOLLER plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. (30 Bridgman 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 Warning: Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Saturday July 2nd, 09:00 pm
- Sunday July 3rd, 10:45 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 04:30 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 07:15 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 09:30 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 03:30 pm
Photo of David Benjamin Tomlinson