Beast (Hopscotch on the Rocks) 2011 Toronto Fringe Review

Beast goes up from July 8th to the 16th as part of the2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, at the Factory Studio Theatre. A company called, Hopscotch on the Rocks is producing the show.

Beast begins with a run-in between a young woman named Cass (Vanessa Smyth) and a young man named Alex (Matthew Gouveia) at a beloved friend’s wake. As is far more sharply evident in the next scene, Cass and Alex are in the end stage of a break-up.

Just as Cass is collecting her last box to move-out, a package arrives at the apartment door. In the package, from their now-departed friend, is a bowl of water, with instructions that Cass and Alex – affectionately referred to as a single unit, “AC” – take care of the little goldfish (named Beast) inside.

Cass immediately takes control. She lays-out a plan so that they – her and Alex – spend as little time together as possible. As per explicit instructions, while they both have to play music for Beast and tell the little fish jokes, they only have eat together as a threesome.

For a while, the plan works. And Ms. Smyth – also the playwright of Beast – treats us to scenes in which Alex is solo onstage with the bowl.

Mr. Gouveia as Alex is, at first, equal parts frustrated and amused by looking after Beast (especially as he attempts to tell knock-knock jokes to his stage partner).

As the play moves beyond its first half, Mr. Gouveia demonstrates an absolutely charming mixture of sensitivity and humor when Beast shows odd symptoms. Charm that is apparent pretty early on actually, first most evident to me when Mr. Gouveia sings and dances along to the title song of Beauty and the Beast.

Unlike Alex, whom we see, takes the instructions playfully in the first half or so of the play, we see Cass using the fish as an opportunity to exert authority (e.g. control and contradict Alex).

Though, like Alex, the character has a vulnerability that comes out as the action moves on (especially as she sings, “At Last by Etta James).

Toward the end of Beast, the plot gets muddy. Or at least, I had trouble following what was happening after Cass and Alex almost drop the fishbowl. I think this sequence – maybe ten or fifteen minutes long – was an attempt to show us why Cass and Alex broke-up in the first place. But it wasn’t clear to me, because the performance style shifts between a direct presentation to us and interaction between the characters. Were they actually recalling this between one another, or was this pure exposition with dramatic reenactments?

It didn’t ruin the play, but it took me out of it a bit.

As a man told me after the show, referring to the same sequence, “it wasn’t quite a play at the end, but fragments of work.”

Generally though, I’d recommend Beast. It’s basically a romantic comedy, with a whimsical premise, and wonderfully gifted cast.

Details

Beast goes up from July 8th to the 16th as part of the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, at the Factory Studio Theatr(125 Bathurst, two blocks south of Queen Street, on the east side of the street). A company called, Hopscotch on the Rocks is producing the show.

– Remaining shows are Sun July 10 at 9:15pm; Tue July 12 at 6:45pm; Wed, July 13 at 8:00pm; Fri July 15 at 11:15pm; Sat July 16 at 1:45pm