Review: A Boy Called Newfoundland- Theatre Smash

by Lucy Allen

Newfoundland a whimsical and enjoyable addition to Toronto theatre

Remember being fifteen?  For everyone, it’s a tough age, especially when you’re just learning how to deal with your own family dysfunction.  Theatre Smash’s A Boy Called Newfoundland, which opened this week at the Tarragon Theatre, is a quirky if somewhat awkward look at the life of one such dysfunctional family. 
Newfoundland (Patrick Kwok-Choon), called Flounder by his family, is a socially awkward fifteen-year-old boy who is content to play his keyboard, moon over a girl he met in Quebec and help out with the family paper “The Romantic Times”.  His life is turned upside down, though, when his mother (Martha Burns) returns from her second honeymoon without his father.  As his mother’s and sisters’ mental state spirals downwards, Newfoundland makes it his mission to pull his family back together.
One of the first things my show partner commented on was the whimsical nature of the script, and I have to say that I agree.  It’s a little larger than life, inviting you to suspend your disbelief and accept a group of people who take the extreme route when dealing with their problems.  The script walks a fine line and occasionally veers into some darker territory, especially with Newfoundland’s mother, but somehow it’s pulled back and the dialogue remains fairly quirky and light-hearted.
There were moments, though, that could have afforded to have some more weight to them.  A subplot that involves an incestuous attraction didn’t really fit in with the rest of the script.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t a valid subplot or issue, but a plot point like that either needs a bit more attention or it needs to be dropped entirely.  Instead, it was mentioned in a couple of scenes and then promptly swept under the rug, never to be addressed again.  It was the one issue that wasn’t resolved and stuck out like a sore thumb.
But for the couple of weak points in the show, there were many more great moments.  A scene involving a road trip was clearly the highlight of the show for almost everyone sitting in the audience.  I won’t say much about it, except that it’s well worth the wait.  It ended up being the only scene to get applause at the end.  It also helps that the sound design was flawlessly timed with the performance.
Performances all around were solid.  There wasn’t any one performance that stuck out, but then there weren’t any weak links either.  Martin Happer as the divinity student love interest had some great subtle moments, while the duo of Lara Jean Chorostecki and Natasha Greenblatt as the two sisters got laughs everytime they walked on stage.  Patrick Kwok-Choon’s quiet and grounded Newfoundland balanced the other eccentric characters nicely as well.
Finally, I have to mention the set.  It’s a low budget production, with the difficult task of having multiple locations to portray.  The set, with its multiple levels and bright colours, managed to be one of the more versatile and inventive sets that I’ve seen in a while.  A pile of shredded paper on the ground is actually on a panel that is flipped over at the end of the scene.  Another panel lifts up and two headlights appear out of nowhere and you’ve got a car.  Christmas lights suddenly leap from all areas of the stage.  Yeah, I’m easily entertained, but it’s those little suspensions of disbelief that remind me of why I love theatre.
It may not be the next great chapter in theatre, but A Boy Called Newfoundland is certainly an enjoyable one.  Anyone who’s felt the pain of being a fifteen-year-old or who’s felt powerless to stop their changing world will relate.  And though it would be very easy to let the play run off into depressing territory, it keeps to its whimsical nature.  Here’s hoping that the trend will continue.
A Boy Called Newfoundland is playing in the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave) until April 11
-Shows run Tues-Sat at 8pm and Sun at 2:30pm
-Tickets range from $15 to $30
-Tickets can be purchased online, at the door, or by calling the box office at 416-531-1827
Photograph of Patrick Kwok-Choon and Martha Burns by Scarlett O’Neill