Review: The Pedaler’s Wager (Clay and Paper Theatre)

Toronto puppetry and bicycle-infused theatre
delight at Dufferin Grove Park

I came to Dufferin Grove Park thinking I was about to see a humble little outdoor play with simple costumes. Surprisingly, The Pedaler’s Wager turned out to be much different than expected.

As weird as it sounds, this little puppet musical got me a little teary-eyed within the first five minutes. It must have been a combination of the beautiful music, the children’s attention fixed upon the enormous puppets, and the cough syrup I had ingested earlier that morning.

The play has a narrator who helps explain the plot. “She’s beautiful!” said the little girl sitting in front of me. For me, she was very funny and fantastical. The performers are all very witty, engaging and entertaining for children and adults alike.

The Pedaler’s Wager is about a young girl who, much to the dismay of her parents, leaves the family farm to carve out her own life. The young girl’s favourite spot to dwell is by the river – a large puppet with a woman’s head and a long tail of beautiful blue material represent the water.

Unfortunately, Baron Boots and Lady Grabsome develop the area by the river and, well, the question of whether progress is good or bad seems to be an important one to ask. Of course, for the kiddies, the puppets may trump the philosophy lesson.

The puppets are very cool – and very big. Think giant cowboy boots a metre high; a huge colourful green head with a curled pencil mustache; and an ethereal river woman in all hues of blue. Some puppets are smaller, and are great for getting up close to the kids.

Brandon Miguel Valdivia, Rebecca Bruton and Nick Ferraro did a great job of playing the music directed by Chris Wilson and Nuno Cristo. It sounds like a real live band in the park, with inklings of saxophone, trumpet, trombone, violin, drums, tambourine and more. The whimsical music is a little bit jazzy and a little bit gypsy. I wouldn’t mind listening to it all day long, and it suits the play perfectly.

I happened to catch the “Mobile Matinee” – which means there are three acts, and each act takes place in a different park. Which means I had to BYOB – Bring my Own Bike. Many audience members caught this play as they were passing by, and didn’t have bikes with them – a lot of them were disappointed they couldn’t see the next act. Some of the kids probably aren’t old enough to ride bikes yet either.

This is one of the downsides to the Mobile Matinee, although it is a cool idea to have a bike parade and pedal around the city with the theatre troupe. The bicycle trip from the first park (Dufferin Grove Park) to the second park (Fred Hamilton Park) is 15 minutes long, which means you can’t really walk there without the risk of missing the show altogether. The third park was Trinity Bellwoods Park.

The good news is there are stationary performances where the entire play takes place in only one park. These take place at 7 pm from Wednesdays to Sundays.

This play is visually and musically stunning, and its inquiries into the choices we make as individuals and in society are very interesting. I have never quite seen such philosophy presented through satirical puppetry, let alone in live theatre. I should not mislead you to think this is a children’s play – it is not. It is a play for everyone to watch. I am extremely impressed with the Clay & Paper Theatre and will definitely be catching another performance.

Details

– Note: There are shows especially adapted for those who are blind or have low vision and include sign language; there are also shows for those who are hearing-impaired. See the website for more details.

– Stationary performances that take place at one park only are performed Wednesday through Sunday at 7:00 PM and Friday at 2:00 PM

– Takes place at Dufferin Grove Park (east of Dufferin, south of Bloor) and costs $10 / pay what you can

– Mobile matinees take place at Dufferin Grove Park, then at Fred Hamilton Park, and moves its third and final act at Trinity Bellwoods Park. Bring your own bike. Travelling performances take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM.

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