Review: The Rules (University College Drama Program)

The University College Drama Program in Toronto presents The Rules – creative and experimental

“God knows what this piece is,” says Chuck Mee on his website, referring to The Rules, which runs until March 18th at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

Pretty unflattering language, I thought, for a playwright describing his own work.

One person I talked to in the audience, a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto, described Mr. Mee’s work as post-modern. Another, an acting student, described it as spectacle.

While watching The Rules, as produced by members of the University College Drama Program, another term persistently came to mind: provocative.

In Mr. Mee’s blurb, which begins with the statement above, he says on The Rules, in part, there are “tips for wearing leather, recollections of the good old days at the Mutaigha Club, and an agonized rationalization for selling one’s own body.” And, that’s just a fraction, a morsel, of what happens.

The Rules is a tour-de-force of theatricality. It deploys virtually every technology and performance technique I can think of, which includes: video projections like karaoke-style words, and images of Savannah animals; stand-up comedy, original and borrowed; rituals – we see a sorority girl hazing, and surgery in an operating room, the two are not one in the same, thank goodness, though the hazing is pretty intense; audience participation – in my case, for example, I was taken on a tour of the performance space with a few other audience members, in search of a rare, nocturnal mammal; spoken word poetry; and declarative monologues – there is an attempt to re-write the Ten Commandments, as, in the view of the performer, the original set doesn’t work.

And then there was the choreography…

Amongst many sequences of movement, there was one when the beat line to a gospel song was stomped-out onstage.

After the performance, I overheard one actor deriding the gospel number – “We totally fucked it up!” But I was totally wowed by it. This performer also mentioned in passing that she had to learn to play the guitar for The Rules.

When I found out later that nearly two-thirds of The Rules had been devised by the performers – Ainslie Drew-Brook, Jennifer Fraser, Philip Furguiele, Polly Phokeev, and Katie Housley – as per instructions in Mr. Mee’s text, I was more impressed. As explained to me by a fellow audience member, Mr. Mee will specify the general type of scenes he’d like The Rules to contain, then leave it up to the performers to workshop and research material that fits the criteria.

The more I found out about the process, the more I was staggered by The Rules. It is a monster –a playful monster with ADD – of creative energy, that deserves attention, I think.

The Rules was directed by Banuta Rubess.

I’d recommend checking it out, especially if you like more experimental, multi-media work. The Rules closes this Sunday.



The Rules is playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79A St. George Street) until March 18th
– Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 PM, plus March 16th at 11:00 PM, and March 18th at 2:00PM
– Tickets are $15.00, and $10.00 for students and seniors
– Tickets are available at the box office