Toronto’s Theatre Genesis presents a double bill of Canadian comedic plays
Theatre Genesis Toronto‘s inaugural production is A Canadian Comedy Double Bill: WILF by James Wade and Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests by Jessy Ardern. Both are fast-paced and smartly written, with superb acting and direction, and effective humour both verbal and physical. However, I did like one more than the other.
First up was WILF, presenting the unlikely plot of two best friends, a video game -playing layabout (Matt Shaw) and a lovelorn lesbian (Reanne Spitzer), competing for the affection of a young woman raised by wolves (Jocelyn Adema.) The relationship between the two friends and roommates, Marc and Penelope, is clear and fully realized from the start: a slightly antagonistic, platonic intimacy. Then Wil (short for Wilhemina) arrives, invited by Penelope who isn’t sure of Wil’s sexual orientation and whether this is a date or not – an uncertainty that felt very close to home, as I’m sure it does for most queer girls.
Wil’s wolfness is immediately apparent, and shows off Adema’s physical chops, as she lopes and sniffs around the apartment while Marc and Penelope argue over which one of them should try to seduce her. Soon, however, the table turns and Wil is setting the rules of the game, giving Spitzer and Shaw ample opportunity to use their bodily abilities for comedic effect – and while they are funny, they also have some honestly impressive dance moves.
Throughout all of this there is understated social satire. My companion and I appreciated that it did not feel the need to call attention to itself, to cry out “this is what’s wrong with gender roles and relationship conventions!” The play simply let those considerations be present as a natural subtext to the action.
Next up, Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests, featuring the two named characters as a curmudgeonly old married couple who have divided up everything from their halves of the couch to who controls the TV remote each night. As Vivian (Reanne Spitzer) is settling into her tea and reality cooking show, and Harold (Andrew Merrigan) is grumpily stroking Seymour, the stuffed duck they “share custody” of, the doorbell rings.
From their reaction, it is clear that Harold and Vivian are shut-ins. After a long debate that includes opening and closing the door in their guests’ faces and consulting a picture of Rex Murphy, they let in Mike (Graeme Black) and Janet (Jocelyn Adema).
Mike and Janet are new to the neighbourhood and have brought over cake and the baggage of their own quick marriage, unexplored histories, and differences in opinion as to procreation. High-jinks ensue, including my favourite physical joke of the evening, involving a roll of duct tape. The way our understanding of the nature of the two marriages evolves is very satisfying.
Both Adema and Spitzer demonstrate their adaptability in this double bill, though arguable Spitzer gets the best shot at showing range, switching from a young, tough lesbian to a prim, hetero senior citizen. While I enjoyed seeing this, and she is indubitably very talented, I did wonder a bit that such casting doesn’t allow actual older actors to do work. It would make more sense if the point were to minimize the whole cast by reusing actors, except that the man in the first show did not play either of the men in the second.
Other than this (which is really just a consideration about choices and their affect on the broader community of actors than a criticism), one line I found jarring in WILF, and an odd applause-preempting moment at the end of Harold and Vivian, I enjoyed every moment of my evening. And I know a show is extremely good when my only issues are mere quibbles like these.
I did like WILF more: it’s fresher, and more unpredictable than Harold and Vivian, though the latter is still very good. The double bill would have worked better for me if Harold and Vivian were first, with their more conventional relationship dynamics leading into the wacky world of wolf love.
- WILF and Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests: A Canadian Comedy Double Bill, by Theatre Genesis Toronto, plays at Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West, until August 28th
- Shows are Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm
- Tickets are $15
- Purchase tickets online
Photo of Jocelyn Adema, Reanne Spitzer, and Matt Shaw by Justin Michael Carrier