Review: Gwen Powers (WORKhouse Theatre)

Gwen Powers

Meet the powerful Gwen Powers at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Murraile

Gwen Powers is an intriguing, highly entertaining and Toronto-centric take on the age old problem of a “bizarre love triangle”. Gwen Powers, the character, is like a sunburn. One usually has great fun getting the burn, but the consequences are very painful. Theatre Passe Murraile Backspace isn’t a beach, but it is where Gwen burns two men.

The play is original, fresh, entertaining, fast paced and completely enjoyable. Gwen Powers will make you think, too. Don’t worry. There won’t be a test on this.

Gwen Powers is a play about a teacher, Jeff, a vice-principal, Tom, and a student, Gwen. Both male characters are weak and troubled but loveable. The female is extraordinary, almost superhuman.

Gwen is an enticing high school girl. Sofia Banzhaf is perfectly annoying yet irresistible as Gwen Powers. She basically hunts, seduces and captures her favourite teacher, Jeff Bridge (Jonah Hundert).

Banzhaf does an incredible job playing a spoiled, powerful schoolgirl. She brings the marvellous diaglogue written by Michael Goldlist to life and makes it hers. She makes it more than just words on paper. Banzhaf`s tone, mannerisms and attitude ring entirely true.

Stan, my partner for the night, found Gwen annoying at times. I have to admit, I did too. Stan and I are two males who have seen our 30th birthdays a long time ago. I think that is exactly how we were supposed to feel about Gwen.

It would be easy to make Gwen one-dimensional. Banzhaf, on the other hand, brings many layers to the character and makes Gwen complex. She makes the audience feel everything from disgust to sympathy to pity. If you have an inactive libido, she can cure that, too. Stan and I tip our geezer hats to you, Miss Banzhaf.

Jeff is a wonderful character that both Stan and I loved. He conjures up a couple of other loveable Jeffs. One is Jeff Spicoli from the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High. The other is “The Dude”, The Big Lebowski himself, Jeff Lebowski.

Jeff is a stoner and a drunk. He is directionless, but he is every students’ favourite teacher. Stan said, “There’s a teacher like that in every school. They normally drive Corvettes.” I grew up in a poor neighbourhood, so ours drove a Trans Am.

There’s not a lot to say about Jeff. He really is a one-dimensional character. Stan and I felt more connected with his collection of vinyl records than we did the character.

Gwen also manipulates her vice principal, Tom (Jan-Michael Weir). Tom is an old friend of Jeff, his flipside. Both male characters are seedy and unethical.

Tom exudes the establishment kind of repulsion. Weir brings an understated complexity to Tom. On the surface Tom is squeaky clean. In Weir’s hands, Tom has slime running through his veins instead of blood. Watching Tom is a bit like listening to a politician. We can sense that there’s something very wrong with him, but we just can’t place our finger on it. Tom reminded me a bit of the William H. Macy character in Fargo. Totally fantastic.

As teacher and vice-principal, Jeff and Tom are basically babysitters. It turns out that the baby, Gwen, is the real powerbroker.

The set itself is very simple, alternating between Jeff’s apartment and Tom’s office. The actors transform it from one to the other in dim lighting between scenes. I found this quite effective. It gives a sense of semi-secret human choreography of the characters. We can sort of see what they are doing, but some secrets remain secrets.

The zenith of Gwen Powers is a scene that involves a confrontation between Jeff and Tom. It’s a white knuckle affair. It transcends the physical.

There’s a great video trailer for Gwen Powers that you should see. Check it out here.

Both the subject matter and the venue are a little uncomfortable at times. Ultimately, both are very rewarding. Put Gwen Powers on your intention sheet.

Details:

  • Gwen Powers is playing at Theatre Passe Murraile backspace until April 6th, 2013
  • Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 with matinees on Sundays at 2:00pm
  • Tickets range from $15-$25. with deep disounts for artists and students
  • Tickets can be purchased in person, online or by calling 416.504.7529

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