Review: better than this (Moose + Moa Theatre Company)

Better Than ThisA break from holiday theatre in Toronto, Passe Muraille presents a play about addiction

At first glance, mounting better than this at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto during the Christmas season may seem like a gigantic scheduling error. After all, on the surface it is a play about drug addicts, punk rock and young lives unraveling. If you dig a little deeper, the undercurrent here is love.

Like the holidays, this play is about building bridges and gaining an understanding with those who are less fortunate or different than ourselves. It’s true that when you give, you get back so much more in return. And if you go see better than this, I am sure that you will be richly rewarded for your time.

I found the play to be very much like spending time with a therapist: nothing really matters except what is in our hearts, minds and soul. Proponents of the “less is more” philosophy will love this play. It is short and sweet, clocking in about 70 minutes. But like a two-minute Ramones song, boy does it ever pack a punch.

The set of better than this is bare bones. As a “punk rock” play, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old music video “Bastards of Young” by The Replacements. Both the music video and this play have one thing in common: their sets are not much more than a cheap old stereo.

There’s only four characters in the play, three punks and a young police officer. They take turns delivering monologues, as if the audience were their therapist. All four actors delivered real and honest speeches, and the overall effect was that the play was like an “acid flashback” for many of us.

Danny (William Greenblatt) is the punk who stomps like a gorilla in his Doc Martens, his hands much more likely to throw a fist than open a book or click a mouse. Like all four actors, his monologues (confessions) take me back to my high school days. My best friend fell in with “the wrong crowd”, and Danny reminds me of those days, when my friend would take me to “strange houses” and I would wonder out loud “what the fuck are we doing here?”

Needless to say, Danny and my best friend left this planet as a result of street drugs.

Danny has two love interests. Casey (Myrthin Stagg), his ex, is released from prison and trying to clean up and go straight. Amy (Thea Fitz-James) is just beginning her roller coaster ride with Danny. They are both addicted to Danny, and by association, both women are victims of junk, of Danny’s addiction.

Neither woman has a chance, no matter how much sympathy we give. We keep trying though, because we are addicted to helping others, especially when it is December and the world outside of the theatre looks like a snow globe.

Some people like “their man” to bring them a big bag of junk. Other people would rather see a different man bring a big bag of presents to children. In my life, I’ve seen much more of the former yet hope for much more of the latter. I guess junkies wait for Santa all 365 days of the year, not just one.

If you don’t think a play about addiction is proper or appropriate to be staged at this time of year, consider that there are addictions such as wealth, shopping, and food, to name a few. Good punk rock asks questions that few others have the courage to ask, and so does better than this.

Mounting better than this midway between Black Friday and Boxing Day is anything but a scheduling error: is an act of scheduling brilliance! Seeing this play is the most punk rock thing I’ve seen in a VERY long time.

Thank you, cast and crew of Moose + Moa Theatre Company. I think your play has helped me deal with my “survivor’s guilt.” When we strip away the bullshit and get in touch with ourselves, when we ask ourselves serious questions and give honest answers, we can grow as people. better than this can really be seen as a catalyst for jump-starting the healing process.

Details:

  • better than this is playing until December 18, 2016 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson St.)
  • Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 7:30 pm, with an additional matinees on Sundays at 2: 00pm
  • Ticket prices range from $17 – $25, with PWYC on Sundays call 416-504-7529 or visit the box office for tickets.

Photo of William Greenblatt and Michael Ruderman by Jeremy Powell.