Review: Tom’s a-cold (Starving Artists Co-op) – Next Stage Theatre Festival

by George Perry


Toronto’s Nextstage Theatre Festival is more than just another theatre festival. Likewise, Tom’s a-cold is more than just another play about Canada, or even Toronto.  The Factory Theatre hosts this gem, and of course The Factory is more than just another theatre.

The play involves two men on a tiny lifeboat. They are loyal British subjects, adrift at sea after abandoning their ships in The Canadian Arctic in 1845.  Many topics are addressed in this play. Many of them, such as isolation, insanity, cannibalism, homosexuality and love are topics that most suburban Canadians would rather avoid.

There are shades of Apocalypse Now and Deliverance in this performance. On one level, the two men have the goal of making it back to Canada. On a more basic, more real level, they seek to remain human. This is a journey into the human psyche.

This play is absurd while at the same time striking a chord. I recalled The Kids In The Hall paddling a canoe down Bay Street hoping to club and skin corporate executives for their skins.  Their skins turned out to be their thousand dollar designer suits.  Tom’s a-cold is thought provoking in the same way.

This play is about a dark and scary journey. It is introspective. It could be The Canadian Arctic, it could be Viet Nam or it could be The American South. Playwright David Egan has done a great job. In the end, this play is about trying to discover and confirm just what it means to be human, not about finding the Northwest Passage.

Tom and George are the two men trying to keep their wits while adrift on a lifeboat. They try to find companionship and become friends in a barren land. They could fire their gun and nobody would hear it. In Toronto, you can’t sneeze without infecting somebody. Stranded and isolated, Tom and George rediscover their humanity and become friends. Surrounded by five million people, few of us enjoy the friendship that Tom and George do.

Shane Carty is fine as George Holworthy.  Matthew MacFadzean is stellar as Thomas Dowling. Carty is obviously well-schooled and well-heeled as an actor. MacFadzean offers all that Carty does, and he adds in a tremendous amount of passion.

I hated MacFadzean’s character at first. Not because of bad acting, but because of great acting. I was seeing my micromanaging boss on stage! Towards the end of the play, the room becomes MacFadzean’s. The emotion and passion coming from this man pushed the audience back into our seats. We were along for a ride in a muscle car, and MacFadzean hit the gas pedal. His performance is jaw-dropping, exceptional.

-Tom’s a-cold is part of The Next Stage Theatre Festival and is playing at the Factory Theatre Studio Space at the corner of Bathurst and Adelaide.
-The show runs for 75 minutes with no intermission
-Tickets are $12 to $15.  There are also packages available.
-Tickets can be purchased online, by phone – 416-966-1062 or 1-866-515-7799, or at the box office inside the heated McAusland Beer Tent at Factory Theatre
-Tom’s a-cold runs until January 16, 2011.  Check the schedule for days and times.