by Ryan Oakley
When people who hate theatre imagine a modern play, they imagine something like Theatre Smith Gilmour’s GRIMMtoo at Factory Studio. It seems more like drama students practising their craft than a finished piece, more like a television comedy mocking theatre than an actual play.
It’s a collection of incomprehensible short pieces, and it starts very badly. A man sits on the edge of the stage and tells us about all the strange things he’s seen. This would be fine but, like most of the play, it’s interminable. He goes on and on and on, giving us a list instead of a story until he bludgeons any magic out of these strange things. And finally, the lights are turned off and the play begins.
If only the lights were left off. Instead, they turned on one, a spotlight playing the moon, and blasted it directly into the audience. If you wish to replicate this effect at home, find a dark room and have a friend with an industrial strength flashlight turn it off and on in your face for about ten minutes. By the time the second short started, I couldn’t see the actors through the huge red dot left on my vision.
If only that huge red dot had remained. When I could see the actors again, I disliked what I saw. It’s impossible to measure their worth as performers when they are performing script as witness and it’s boring as this one. They seemed like they might be basically competent. If they were in something else.
Here, they were allowed no range. Though they were supposed to be different characters, they kept playing them the same way. One fellow could make funny noises. So all of his characters made different funny noises. It was a performance straight out of Police Academy.
As it was, the actors mainly portrayed animals. Consulting my note,s I see that they played a dog, wolf, sheep, birds, ducks and a pond. How does one give a good performance as a pond? They don’t.
What I didn’t know was that one could give a bad performance as a dog. Yet this is exactly what the play’s co-creator Dean Gilmour managed to do. Watching a man on all fours, giving a barking howling soliloquy for far too long might have been one of the evening’s more distressing spectacles.
It might have been, but it wasn’t.
Much worse, was whatever was happening on the stage at any given moment. I have never spent so much time watching something and wondering what was happening. (And I’ve watched David Lynch movies!) The writing of the play operated on a simple formula. It was lengthy goobly-gook and then someone would explain it. They would repeat the same action again and again.
This a boring formula. As it doesn’t exactly dramatize anything, it can’t exactly be called drama.
One of the shorts, for example, is mainly in French. I can’t criticize it for that because my inability to speak the language is my own shortcoming. But nowhere in the promotional material is one told that a good portion of this play will be in French. And why have someone bother speaking French only to have someone else selectively boil down what they have said when they finish? It just wastes time.
The speaking of French is not vital to the play, the character or anything that I can imagine. (It could have been just as bad in English.) Having a character speak French for no reason is just an example of another bad decision made in a play replete with them. I cannot think of a single instance when this play made a good decision. Not in its story telling, dialogue, costumes or acting.
And I wish I could. I try very hard to find something good in every play that I see. But when one sees something like this, even that humble task becomes impossible. The only thing left to do is blame the right people.
I hold the two creators Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith responsible. The rest of the cast, being young, might be excused for ending up in this mess. On paper, it might seem edgy and interesting; a play to test their range and hone their abilities. Perhaps they have fallen beneath the influence of their critically-acclaimed elders. But their talents are abused by this production.
I cannot excuse the people who created this mess, they should know better.
– GRIMMtoo is playing until March 21, 2010 at the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
– Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with a Sunday matinee at 2:30pm
– Ticket prices range from $20 – $28, and Sunday performances are $10 in advance, or PWYC at the door Students and seniors receive a $5 discount on all tickets.
– Tickets are available through Factory Theatre Box Office at 416-504-9971, online at www.factorytheatre.ca or www.totix.ca, or in person at the T.O. TIX booth at Yonge-Dundas Square, or at the door.