CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST (Theatre Stendhal) 2012 Toronto Fringe Review

Before I can write my review of CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST I need to get something out of the way – I’ve never seen a cuter Jesus. Or three cuter Jesuses. Allen (Jamie Ebbs), Michael (Max Tepper), and Phillip (Mark Johnson) are 2012 Toronto Fringe Fest’s Holy Trinity, three sons of God who can act and look good doing it. And Allen is the first to admit it, at one point claiming, “My body’s so good people say ‘Christ’s got a body,’ not ‘the body of Christ.’”

I don’t mean to be trivial; it’s just hard not to notice in a theatre space this intimate and fourth-wall devoid. These Christly cuties walk right up to the audience, look us in the eye, and inspire our engagement on every level.

And with creator/director Alexis Eastman’s unfailing attention to detail and topical examination of the construction of identity, I can’t help but feel that this Jesus-as-eye-candy business is no accident.

It’s this attention to detail that make the play feel so authentic. The scene is “St. Rita’s Psychiatric Institute,” but the venue is a church (Walmer Baptist, Venue 14), which immediately creates an interesting intellectual tension. The program even looks like a church bulletin while welcoming the audience as today’s visitors to the institute.

The play begins in the waiting area. A few minutes before show time the adjacent room, which you can see into through several windows, fills with some interesting looking people wandering around in pajamas. Evidently, patients.

Shortly after we’re greeted by a grumpy, gum-popping nurse (Susannah McKay), who outlines the rules of our visit and passes out visitor badges. There’s never any fourth wall – each actor is already existing as his or her character, and the audience is thrust into their own role.

We then file in to the room and “group therapy” begins.

As our three Christs take center stage along with Dr. Stanley Hoffman (Marc Basque) and his student Amelia Patterson (Ashley Caggianello), the rest of the institute patients continue to mill about in the background, setting a very realistic-feeling scene.

To be frank; I loved this play. It’s the kind where the audience is made immediately uncomfortable in the most enjoyable way. At several points I caught myself thinking “That guy is hilarious!” or “I can’t believe he really said that!”, as if I actually was visiting this Psychiatric Institute, listening to these three Christs compete for an identity they all claim but only one can own.

The best part is that most of CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST is rehearsed improv, meaning it follows plot points and often re-visits dialogue that came out in improv rehearsal, but nothing is scripted.

With the audience so close to the action, this becomes very effective. The characters come across as fully developed and entirely believable; dialogue is spot-on and feels genuine.

Plus, it means that every show will vary. Seeing this play is like entering a complete world, one that will continue to exist after you leave, and will be different every time you come back.

CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST is very human – and very funny.

The only disappointment was that after the abrupt (but appropriate) ending we didn’t get to clap – and this play really deserved it.

Details

  • CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST plays at Venue 14 – Walmer Baptist Church (188 Lowther Ave.)
  • Show times: July 04 7:30 PM, July 05 07:30 PM, July 06 02:30 PM, July 06 07:30 PM, July 07 02:30 PM, July 10 02:30 PM, July 11 02:30 PM, July 11 07:30 PM, July 12 07:30 PM, July 13 02:30 PM
  • All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows