Review: Smother (Theatre Lab)


Theatre Lab’s Smother breathes more life into funky Toronto neighbourhood

Smother is a play that has everything. I was lucky to see it at Unit 102 Theatre in Toronto recently.

It is the story of a man who wants to start a family of his own. His overbearing mother stands in his way.

I’d never visited this theatre or even this neighbourhood before. I arrived before my friend Mike and waited outside. A man walked by, pulling a wagon with a young boy in a wagon. The boy looked up at me, smiled and waved. I did the same. The tone for the evening was set.

The theatre is barebones, which suits me perfectly. Canadian music icon Bob Wiseman sat on a bench playing accordion as we entered. Smother uses a minimum of props, really just a bunch of evocative scarves and a tea set.

The creative process of Smother is interesting. The team began with a minimal script. They then explored Commedia Dell’Arte, Bouffon and the Laban Efforts. The first two are improv and mockery. The Laban Efforts are the study of human movement.

If this sounds like sitting in on stuffy, high-level theatre classes, think again. It’s a very pleasant learning experience, with all of the pleasure and none of the pain.

The hard work has paid off. Smother begins with Rory de Brouwer walking in place. He paints a picture in our minds. We can “see” the village he walks through. We can see the fields, the vegetables.

Aaron Rothermund and Lea Russell appear onstage. They don’t act like playful children, they are playful children. We’re transported to Eastern Europe. We’re younger, simpler and happier. We’re living with gypsies and we’re smiling like that innocent boy in the wagon.

I didn’t get the chance to meet my wife’s Lithuanian grandmother. When the grandchildren misbehaved, she threatened them: “Vee gonna sell you to the gypsies!” After seeing Alexandra Baczynskyj perform, I feel I’ve met grandmother!

While all this is happening, Bob Wiseman plays accordion, framing the portrait.

Mike noticed that all the actors had fearless, intoxicating smiles. We both noticed that Smother has everything. It is a mosaic of singing and dancing, great acting, comedy, music, contortionists, drama and even the delivery of a baby!

Smother is like an adult fairy tale. The story is dark but the audience leaves with open minds and bright eyes. I had the same feeling afterwards as I do after listening to some of Bjork’s better work.

The preparation is certainly paying off. There isn’t one star in Smother, there are four. All actors shine, but they all work well together. Their trust, confidence and respect for one another are infectious. They might be a “small” four cylinder engine, but they produce more horsepower than a Ferrari!

I want to see Smother again. At times I would focus my attention on one actor, at times at everyone onstage. Neither was ever the wrong decision.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye open for phase two of Smother and be following Theatre Lab and Unit 102.

After the play, Mike and I went to a local watering hole to enjoy a beverage. A gypsy band was playing. What a perfect trip!

Smother is playing at Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street)
-Performances are March 29-31
-Tickets are $5 advance  at  or $10 at the door