Review: Feral Child (Suburban Beast/Canadian Stage)

Cynthia Asphperger and William Chrisstopher Ellis in Feral Child

Take a walk on Oshawa’s wild side.

There’s an old truism that “you can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. Feral Child, now onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre, is about walking in another person’s shoes. I think.

I arrived really early and walked around the neighbourhood, exploring. George Brown College is a huge part of the community and the school year had just started. Young people, new to Toronto, were walking around, finding their bearings as well.

Upon entering the venue, patrons are required to remove their shoes. This is allegedly done to make life easier for the cleaning lady Adrijana (Cynthia Ashperger). I read this on a notice posted on the door that most people ignored. The ticket-takers could have done a better job of “selling” this.

Feral Child is all about shoes. It’s all about confused shoes. We remove our shoes upon entering so that we might try on those of others during the play.

Once seated, we are immersed into a suburban bedroom. This one to belongs to Jeremy (William Christopher Ellis) and happens to be in Oshawa. It could just as easily be in St. Catharines or Burlington.

The room is shelter for a simple bed and desk, a not so simple boy and more square feet than many apartments in Toronto. It’s a deceptively simple set. It is an authentic and vivid recreation of a suburban teenage boy’s natural habitat.

It is also where a chance meeting between a rich kid skipping school and his housekeeper takes place.

Ashperger could not have done a better job as Jeremy’s housekeeper, Adrijana. She changes her shoes several times during Feral Child. With each footwear change, Adrijana becomes a different person. We watch, wiggling our toes, able to relate.

She is believable as a hurt mother, as an art history professor or as a lonely immigrant riding a despicably lonely bus in Oshawa. She authentically portrays a wide range of emotions.

Jeremy is a spoiled brat with all the answers. I thought Ellis did a great job portraying him. Ellis had me vividly recalling several people from high school. He was more effective than a Ouija board. Memories of the people who were always one-dimensional, arrogant and seemed to have special privileges were evoked. I didn’t like or hate these people, but I never felt comfortable around them. I found it remarkable that Ellis could remind me of emotions I had forgotten about.

Mike, who grew up in Toronto, found Ellis wooden. I grew up in the suburbs. Perhaps there aren’t any “Jeremies” at inner-city high schools for Mike to recall.

The first half of Feral Child is easy to follow and straightforward. During the second half though, the complexity builds. When Adrijana trades her sneakers for red heels, things become very confused.

I felt like a pendulum swinging back and forth. I’d understand what was going on then be completely lost. At the end, I felt completely lost, like I was “in over my head” and hadn’t understood the play.

Afterwards, I felt like a suburban teenager alone and hopelessly adrift, floating aimlessly in “The Great Sea of Toronto.” My shoes no longer felt comfortable.

Mike calmed me down. “I think we were supposed to be confused.”

An old college professor used to say “It’s OK to be confused, so long as you are confused on a higher level.”

Feral Child succeeded at confusing us on a higher level. Thanks!

Details:

  • Feral Child is playing at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley)
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, with Saturday matinees at 2 pm until September 22
  • Tickets are $22.00, $17.00 for students
  • Tickets are available online, at the door or by calling 416-368-3110

 -photo of Cynthia Ashperger and William Christopher Ellis by Mark Peckmezian