by Dorianne Emmerton
I’m not sure how The Wrecking Ball was not on my radar before, being both a theatre buff and a person with political sensibilities. I’m certainly glad I know of it now.
The concept is: the playwrights have one week to write a short script, around ten minutes. The actors have a couple of days with the script, and are on book for the performance. They do tech the day of: this is stripped down theatre. The plays are to be politically relevant to current events. Each show runs one night only.
The promo for Monday night’s show read:
On Tuesday December 7th, the new Toronto City Council including 14 new city councillors and His Worship Mayor Rob Ford will meet for the first time.
The night before this new era of civic governance, The Wrecking Ball presents the works of six Toronto writers who consider the question, “Now What?”
Given this, I expected six short plays depicting a bleak Fordian future but only one of them could really be described as that. They were quite diverse in their approach to the subject.
The evening opened off with ten minutes of almost non-stop laughter with Outsourced Anger, written by Jovanni Sy and directed by Sanjay Talwar. The impeccable Pamela Singh played a call centre staff member training a new employee, played by Anand Rajaram. As we’ve seen lately in the industry, this call centre has recently been outsourced to India, but the kicker is the call centre’s purpose: to call up radio talk shows expressing xenophobic right-wing anger.
After that was Untitled by Darren O’Donnell and the Torontonians. The Torontonians seem to be a group of charming young people. The piece involved moving the audience’s chairs so we had to stand, then watch the young people display some admirable musical and theatrical skills. The latter was in the form of some improv and even a Shakespearean monologue.
If it had any point it was far too abstract for me to grasp but it was lovely to see young people being engaged and involved in a political theatre event.
After that we had SOS/MS/ASAP by Edwidge Jean-Pierre, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams and featuring David Collins, Gia Sandhu, Jack Grinhaus, Daniela Vlaskalic, Shawn Hitchins and Nicky Guadagni. It dealt with the Liberation Therapy that is available in the United States for MS patients but is not (yet) approved in Canadian healthcare. For a ten-minute piece it was remarkably adept at covering both the positive and the negative perspectives of the controversial therapy.
After intermission we heard a series of Rob Ford’s most offensive quotes, ending with his statement that “Those Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over” which was followed by David Yee reading from MacLean’s recent piece on how our universities are becoming “Too Asian.” It’s telling – and sad – that a relatively straight reading of a “news” item can garner so much laughter from an audience.
This was a perfect segue into Judith Thompson’s monologue performed by the effervescent Marjorie Chan, whose character proclaims herself “the Asian Anne Coulter.”
Then there was Citizen Michael by Anthony Furey, directed by Hrant Alianak. Jim Codrington played a long-time city councillor who has just lost his seat in the election and comes to City Hall looking for his former aide, played by Dalal Badr, who now works for the man who won. This was a very touching ten minutes.
The night finished with Perfect Storm by Yvette Nolan, directed by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. This is the play I mentioned before, the one that directly portrayed Rob Ford as mayor in a city that can no longer afford to keep the electricity on at City Hall. Eli Hamm was a delightfully bombastic Ford and Nisha Ahuja played his overworked aide. Waawaate Fobister rounded out the cast as the aboriginal chief who shows up to reclaim the land of Toronto. It was also quite funny, although it was a laughter born of fear, as all the art-lovers and activists in the audience bolstered themselves to face the next four years.