New independent Toronto theatre company safeword debuts with the apt and alluring Turtleneck
Turtleneck is a play about sex created by virgins. This is indie company safeword’s first time – its their seminal production, writer/director Brandon Crone’s first play, as well as his directorial debut. I got to see it in the intimate hub14 on opening night, among the first to whom Turtleneck revealed itself.
And oh boy, did it reveal itself. Boldly. Successfully! Their virginity is worth mentioning because safeword, with no notches on their bedpost, seem to know just what to do. Turtleneck gives Toronto indie theatre a good name. It’s amazing what artists in this city can produce with talent, commitment, and what I assume must be almost no budget.
The play echoes safeword’s aim to facilitate philosophical discussion and critical thought through theatre. It’s about sex, yes, but more specifically sexual addiction, gendered relationships to porn, and the complications of consent in the porn industry and in heterosexual couplings.
This may all sound rather serious, and it is. But it’s also a comedy!
Leaving the theatre, my date and I found ourselves comparing the piece to my all-time favorite, Terminus. For me – and likely for you, if you’ve seen Terminus – this comparison alone is high praise for Turtleneck.
Not that the two plays are at all similar, but there is an intangible, sublime quality they both share. There was this feeling that Turtleneck gave both my date and I, that sort of I’m unsure what I just walked out of but I liked it daze, that I haven’t felt from any play I’ve seen since Terminus.
Turtleneck’s strength doesn’t lie in any one quality; mostly all of its qualities are strong. The acting is captivating. The world this cast pulls us into is visceral, fleshy, and complete. The hour and fourty-five minutes it runs disappear quickly.
It’s the kind of acting that makes you forget you’re sitting in a vaguely uncomfortable chair behind some tall people you can’t quite see around. These actors make you forget your own physicality to pay attention to theirs.
This also gives credit to Brandon’s writing. It’s a promising script to come from a clearly intuitive emerging playwright. He has a special skill for dialogue, for capturing the essence of his complex characters through their language.
And he’s a natural at directing. I don’t usually point out things like pacing in my reviews but I’m compelled to. This is a play built on moments that are given time and space to play out.
This is also where my only criticism comes in. A play that rides on a series of superbly crafted moments doesn’t necessarily give rise to an overall unified narrative. This play makes its business the asking of un-asked questions. Its boundaries are there only to push. It’s compelling: it fascinates as it provokes. But the story never quite comes together for me.
The ending, an uncomfortably alluring scene, is unlike anything I’ve seen on a stage outside of those final moments in Grapes of Wrath. It made me feel bad, and it turned me on. I’m a lover of writing that inspires such conflicting emotions. As a stand-alone scene it was perfect. Yet, at least for me, it felt disjointed as a conclusion, and did little to integrate the controversial claims earlier scenes put forth.
Regardless, I loved the play. I’m feeling pretty tempted to position Turtleneck among my top three favorite plays I’ve seen in Toronto. It is something very special. I recommend Turtleneck to anyone into theatre that grips you and doesn’t let you loose.
Keep an eye out for both this company and this playwright in the future. If they’re this good as virgins, I can only fantasize what experience will bring.
- Turtleneck plays at hub14 (14 Markham St – side door) till February 17,2013.
- Performances run from Feb 7-17, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.
- Tickets are $15.
- Tickets can be purchases online at secureaseat.com/turtleneck or at the door.
Photo by Lara Noell