Review: Miss Toronto Acts Back (Pandemic Theatre & Ditchwitch Brigade)

In a proper tone, perhaps more fitting of a David Attenborough documentary, Art Babayants narrates a scene onscreen of hipster courtship.

We see a young woman and young man – “always in cowboy boots,” notes Mr. Babayants – in Toronto’s trendy Parkdale neighborhood. Before long, the two have made eye contact.

The hipster guy seems to be clinching the attraction, smiling and nodding. And then, Mr. Babayants observes with sympathetic disappointment, the hipster guy takes out a postcard for a photography exhibit – his own – to hand to her.

This vignette, along with another, in which Eve Wylden, the other half of the onstage performance team, poses in grey sweatpants and a yellow tank-top, opens Miss Toronto Acts Back, which runs until this Sunday at Unit 102.

The show looks at Miss Toronto; a beauty pageant that ran for nearly eight decades, beginning in the 1920s.

Despite its longevity, there’s remarkably little out there on the subject. Or at least not easily accessible – where’s the Wikipedia entry on this episode in our quirky past, huh?

So Miss Toronto Acts Back, written by Ms. Wylden, Mr. Babayants and Antje Budde, does somewhat of a double duty. Serving effectively as a vehicle for a bit of lost history and for dramatic commentary on the recent history of women.

We learn, for example, some of the names – Billy Allen, Carol Goss – of Miss Toronto. And, what was expected of them as public figures.

Like, in the 1930s, one was to promote skirts made of discarded flour bags as an austerity measure.

Or, as Ms. Wylden mimics a television show called, “What Makes You Tick?” featuring a panel of psychologists in horn-rimmed glasses, Miss Toronto was expected, as a tacit matter of science, to give-up career ambition for a man.

The weight of these expectations, Ms. Wylden and Mr. Babayants suggest, steps on the sexuality of women. Dramatizing this point by spreading her legs as he tap dances between her thighs.

But as its early moments make clear, Miss Toronto Acts Back has an arch intelligence.

A humdrum demonstration by Miss Toronto of how to make a sandwich, for example, becomes, with talk about cucumber size and “Mr. Carrot” meeting “Misses Lettuce,” a masturbation fantasy.

The house, which was full, absolutely loved this stuff.

But at times, the sexual liberation theme and cultural satire took over. So the history of the pageant was sort of lost again.

At one point for example, Ms. Wylden takes on the role of Sex Ed teacher, and answers questions like, “If my partner ejaculates on my mattress, is it fair to ask for reimbursement for a new mattress?” Or, for example, a sequence in which the onstage team “vogues” for the audience.

But it was a worthwhile trade-off in terms of laughs.

Miss Toronto Acts Back was directed by Ms. Budde with choreography by Marima Medelin-Meinke and Mytro Koumarianos credited as “Manager of Stages, Wrangler of Cues.”

I’d strongly recommend Miss Toronto Acts Back.


– Miss Toronto Acts Back is playing at Unit 102 (376 Dufferin St.). until December 4, 2011. Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm
– Tickets prices are $15
– Tickets are available at the door, or by email