13th edition of a unique theatre event in Toronto gives birth to five new politically charged plays.
Theatre isn’t often directly political these days, so an event like Wrecking Ball is very exciting for us political junkies. Wrecking Ball gives five playwrights a theme from current politics and one week to write a short play. Directors and actors then have one week to rehearse. Scripts are in hand on the stage, but the show is more vibrant and alive than any well-polished piece of drama.
Wrecking Ball 13 was part of the Edward Bond Festival, so the theme that was given to them was a Bond quote. I don’t have the exact quote but this description of Bond’s work will give you an idea: “He had been investigating how language, ideas and humanity are being co-opted for rational capitalist means. Bond writes of people being “asleep” to injustices committed around them by being lulled into complacency through both apathy and the media. His work has focused on a projected, prophetic, dystopic vision of Western society.”
The first play was The Anthropocene by Rosa Laborde, directed by Kelli Fox, featuring Dala Badr, Marc Bendavid, Derrick Chua, Miriam Fernandes, Michael Healey, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Tony Nappo, Gord Rand, Rick Roberts and Pamela Sinha, which has got to be one of the largest casts to grace a Wrecking Ball stage. It was a science fiction story set in a future where there is international legislation in place to govern happiness. There was some creepy pedophilia and a crazy Scottish terrorist and it really was as good as all that sounds.
The second play, winning the prize for punniest title (note: there was no actual prize) was Descartes Before the Horse by Djanet Sears, directed by Alisa Palmer and featuring John Blackwood and Karen Robinson. It was a very funny analysis of insidious racism, and the relationship between the two characters was both very relatable and nuanced. It also included a rant on the fracturedness of the left that garnered a huge response from the audience, since most of us, I believe, were frustrated progressives.
Next was Brad Fraser’s The Title’s At The End featuring Ron White and Gavin Crawford, which is a scene between a playwright and an artistic director who is refusing to produce his play because it criticizes the federal government, for fear of losing their funding. This was a ballsy imagination of the scene that must have gone down when Tarragon Theatre decided not to produce a play of Michael Healey’s that had the Prime Minister as a character. The play stands on its own even if you don’t know that context, but given that most of the audience did, it was an incredibly powerful piece.
Tourist Trap, directed by Aaron Willis and featuring Murray Furrow, Sam Khalilieh and Patrick McManus was Jason Sherman’s return to writing for the stage, and also the return of his popular characters Nathan and Izzy, who are Jewish guys touristing in the West Bank. The end was broadcast halfway through, but for a short piece that doesn’t matter so much, and Sherman’s script was sharp and witty.
The final play was Atrocity by Cliff Cardinal, directed by Audrey Dwyer and featuring Colin Doyle, Adam Lazarus, Rick Roberts and Amy Rutherford and it was a large, loud, daring farce. In it, a veteran returns home from war and immediately murders his own son. It gets even darker from there and had the audience in stitches of horrified laughter. I don’t think anyone in that theatre will ever look at silly string the same way again.
Interspersed throughout the evening were readings of Edward Bond’s poetry by Lauren Brotman, Jack Grinhaus and Ann-Marie MacDonald, a story read by Edward Bond himself, and an original composition by Samuel Sholdice that he wrote for a production of one of Bond’s plays. The readings were nice and the music was lush and epic.
Wrecking Ball doesn’t happen on any regular schedule, but I really look forward to the next one, whenever it may be. It brings together the best theatre artists in the country got to tell tales of real relevance to our lives.
Photo of Gavin Crawford & Ron White by by Keith Barker