The Collectors (Broken Cloud Company) 2013 Toronto Fringe Review

 

The Collectors by Broken Cloud Company is a play describing the difficulties of financial and emotional debt. The Toronto Fringe performance at Robert Gill Theatre demonstrates the mental strain of being unable to pay back what one has taken.

Hannah Parsons, played by Monica Walsh, is plagued by constant telephone calls demanding she get her affairs in order. The collectors Mr. Maggat (Justin Stayshyn), Mrs. Smith (Rebecca Davey) and Mr. Virtue (George Evans) pester Hannah every few minutes with another phone call.

Because of the number of phone calls from the collectors, Hannah’s dialogue felt increasingly repetitious. To each collector she claimed she had no money, no family, no friends, or no way to pay them back until she finished her work. The repeated answers felt like a lazier way to extend the play by making the plot stand still.

I would have preferred if the collectors were dealt with in different ways. With Mrs. Smith, Hannah was sweet, but with both Mr. Maggat and Mr. Virtue, Hannah attempted to weasel out of the phone call with seduction. The three collectors could have created three entirely unique situations. I did not feel like the play used the possibilities of interaction to its advantage.

I don’t mind strangeness in a play, as long as it feels like it belongs. The Collectors made odd choices that felt like they were shoehorned into the plot to appear more unique. Mrs. Smith was portrayed by a pregnant woman whose telephone was a bottle of liquor, which she drank from every few minutes. Or, at one point, Mr. Maggat and Mr. Virtue show up in only underpants and superhero capes. The scenarios are not funny, just unnecessarily strange.

While delving into the stresses of being in financial debt is an interesting idea, The Collectors didn’t get too far with it. This is especially disappointing because the situation is so relatable, but the play made it difficult for me to connect as an audience member. From where I sat, The Collectors swung for a hard-hitting topic–and sadly missed.

Details:

The Collectors is playing at Robert Gill Theatre, St. George Street, Toronto

Performances:

July 7th – 5:45 pm
July 10th – 12:15 pm
July 11th – 8:45 pm
July 12th – 4:30 pm
July 14th – 9:00 pm

Tickets:

  • Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10 ($5 for FringeKids), cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
  • Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.

Photograph of Monica Walsh by Ryan Fischer

15 thoughts on “The Collectors (Broken Cloud Company) 2013 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. This is not a review. It is not your place to suggest what SHOULD have been done in anyone else’s work, if you are assuming the role of critic. You have every allowance not to like this work, but to be so daft to actually make conceptual and creative corrections undermines your credibility and renders your critical voice mute.

    JS

    1. Hi Juan,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I find it interesting that you think a review should only include bare statements of opinion but I wholeheartedly disagree.

      To be perfectly clear, the writer was merely expressing what she would have preferred in a show which is completely acceptable within the realm of review writing.

      In fact, constructive criticism is just that: saying “this is what didn’t work for me, this is how I would change it, take it or leave it”.

      I believe this style of offering constructive criticism is actually much more helpful than just a bare statement of opinion.

      Wayne Leung

      Managing Editor
      Mooneyontheatre.com

  2. hello mooney & friends,

    as the writer (and first time director) i was deeply crushed by this review. i provided quite a bit of context for the play in the program–(thanking people like eugene ionesco, etc.!!! for fun!!) because i knew the piece might be difficult for folks who might not have seen anything really “absurd” before. i felt like the reviewer had no sense of my previous work–three books of poetry, one previously produced play that was of a similar clown/absurd style that toured festivals across the country
    and lastly, the quality of my CAST. the collectors is an ensemble piece, full of strangeness and yes, repetition–!!! but none of the choices were made out “laziness”. i have been writing THE COLLECTORS for 15 years. i have been reviewed before, and i’m a pretty tough cookie but against all advice from my friends and peers i am sitting here in my housecoat responding because my heart is absolutely broken by the incompleteness of this review. please remove it and send someone with more experience seeing plays.

  3. Hi Shannon,

    I’m glad you took the time to write. I think it helps provide the readers with additional context, and I think that’s important. I also thing it’s one of the benefits of an online publication, it allows for this kind of interaction.

    I also completely understand being upset by the review. Art is a completely subjective, and absolutely precious and personal thing. I can’t imagine putting heart and soul into a piece of art then managing to not be effected by someone saying negative things about it.

    Because of that very fact, the subjectivity of art, we ask our writers to tell us how they felt about the piece. We avoid absolutes like “it’s bad” but rather focus on the writer’s preference “it didn’t work for me” or “I would rather” or “it felt”. Ultimately that’s all we can ever talk about, our own experience of something. One of my guiding principles with the site is that we can’t speak for anyone but ourselves.

    I understand the impulse to ask, but we are not able to remove the review from the site. Although you don’t agree with Dana, it doesn’t mean her experience is not legitimate. As for sending another writer, that’s just not something we are able to do in the scope of Fringe, with so many shows to review in such a short time.

    My one word of caution would be that, especially in a festival like Fringe, I feel like it’s probably dangerous to assume that the majority of your audience will have the kind of context you seem to be expecting before they come into the show.

    I mean this first in the context of expecting people to know your previous work, that’s a pretty tall order for your average audience member.

    But I mean even in terms of reading the program. Many people arrive ‘just in time’ and won’t be able to read it, or they Fringe with friends and won’t take the time to read it. It is fantastic to have information in the program for those who can take the time to read it, but dangerous for the show to rely on it.

    A final note, since you brought up a concern about people who had not seen “absurd” work before. I know that the blurbs for the Fringe program had to be submitted eons ago and it’s often hard to have the blurb reflect the finished product, however you did say you’ve been writing the piece for 15 years. There is nothing in your blurb that references Absurdism. It says “grotesque comedy” which may have been your nod to this, but if you truly are concerned about the lack of experience with, or perhaps preparedness for, an Absurd piece, then I recommend in future you might consider including that information in the description.

    I’m so sorry to hear this review effected you so much. I know that when it’s your art it’s pretty hard not to take it personally. Obviously it’s not, but often reality doesn’t have as much of a bearing on our feelings as we’d like.

    I do hope you have a better response from other reviewers. Just because our writer does not like this style of Absurdism doesn’t mean others won’t.

    Cheers,
    megan

    Megan Mooney
    Founding Editor
    Mooney on Theatre

  4. megan, thank you for your response. i am being overly sensitive i think, and laughing at myself now. you are absolutely right about all of the above! of course you can’t delete the review or send someone else. my husband was trying to pull the computer out my hands as i wrote the above! this is also what i love about theatre–all the risk involved. i am just such a newbie at this in so many ways.
    now i am worried about offending dana! my heart hurts but it will heal! okay–that’s it for this crazy playwright. warm thanks, shannon

  5. I saw “The Collectors” on opening night. I am a long time Fringe goer. I have seen ~80% of the “top plays” in the past few years. I think that it is one of the top five fringe plays that I have ever seen – NNNNN or 5 starts on whatever rating system you use.

    In many ways, this is the quintessential Fringe play. It is intelligent, it is raw, it is extremely well performed. It is about emotions.

    The strength is the portrayal of the roller coaster ride of emotions. The debit theme is just the vehicle. I could the fear of picking up the phone (purely because there will be someone at the other end it doesn’t matter who, you can’t deal with it). The constancy of the fear permeates throughout one’s day and the play. But still, one has to function and carry on..

    The transitions from one emotion/scene to another was very clean and beautifully done by the actors. I got it right from the beginning – the despair, the fear, the need, and even the little bit of joy at the end. It is NOT about someone suicidal or about the hackneyed mental illness theme. It is about someone who is mentally healthy but at the same time, it is about being at that emotional edge when it seems that “things are not firing on all cylinders” and you have to have hope.

    I particularly like the humor and the absurdness of the “nightmare scene”. It was funny and done so well.

    I thought the finish was particularly good. Someone, in that position (in despair but healthy) is able to react positively to a an expression of celebration and happiness even if it has to be shared with the demons of the day.

    Brilliant ending and brilliant play. I echo the “bravo’s” and enthusiasm expressed by the audience on opening night.

    Bravo and have faith, it is a winner. I hope this review will prompt hard core Fringers to check this out, you won’t regret it.

  6. As an actor (not in this show) who has been reviewed both for better and for worse, I know how frustrating reviews can be, particularly when they feel a bit cursory (this is after the artist has spent months/years/decades creating something that is nuanced, highly complex and more emotional than it is logical). Of course, the reviewer plays an important role by offering a quick reaction, similar to that of an audience member. That said, the reviewer carries a lot of power in their sway of public opinion, especially when in relation to a show like this that has not had the benefit of tonnes of pre-show press. And so I’d like to offer another piece of feedback on the play, that I think the reviewer missed in what was perhaps a hastily concocted review.

    I saw the show on opening night and immediately connected with the premise. To me, it is not about the literal “stresses of being in financial debt” per se, but about the experience of many different kinds of debt, which Bramer represents metaphorically via the more literal forms. It’s about the kinds of debts that we *imagine* we have, whether to loved ones, to society, to ourselves, to our work, etc. And how these kinds of debts–which we can never really repay literally but only hope to through some other methods such as our art, our contribution to the world, our goodness–wear on us psychologically, perhaps even psychotically at times, when they are not forgiven and when the ways in which we are trying to repay them are not acknowledged or viewed as adequate.

    The show is an experience that is hysterical, sad, heartwarming and distressing, all of which, I would argue, appear highly deliberate. The cast is STELLAR (could we talk about the performances please!–they are awesome!!!) and the direction is designed to leave you with questions, rather than didactically deliver a message. The play is highly spirited, full of humour and darkness and is CLEARLY absurd. I’m a bit baffled by the debate over whether or not an audience member would know that this play is absurd–it is very clearly so and I trust that most audiences are intelligent enough to pick up on that.

    I would urge audiences to see this little show (little show with a big cast), as it has lots to say while it takes the audience on a dreaded and delightful phantasm, led by some fantastic performances and steered by thoughtful minds. I look forward to seeing the show in other festivals and am excited to see how it develops and blooms over time.

  7. Shannon,

    Honestly, I really do think that it’s good that you commented.

    What you said was heartfelt and sincere and generally not an attack. The key point was to provide more context for readers, and you did that.

    Plus, I have no doubt that it is part of what sparked Paul Joe and Willy to leave their comments, which are essentially reviews of their own. Which is fantastic.

    It’s really great to have discussions about theatre, to have different perspectives. Like I said, Dana told us about her experience, and that’s (of course) valid, but it’s also fantastic to hear about the equally valid experiences of others.

    Willy – One quick note, I wasn’t saying that people *watching* wouldn’t know it was Absurd (although Fringe is full of non-theatre people, which is part of what makes it such a fun festival, so I would actually disagree with you there), I was saying that if there was concern about audiences not being experienced or prepared for it, then it should be mentioned that it is an Absurdist piece.

    Happy Fringing everyone!

  8. Also, I’d just like take a moment to mention how awesome it is that Willy and Paul Joe chose to spend their energy sharing their fantastic experiences with us, instead of trying to belittle the experience of the reviewer.

    It’s always nice when people recognize and respect that people have different options and preferences and that one does not lessen the other.

    Sometimes people are super awesome!

  9. My husband and I had the pleasure of attending opening night of The Collectors. We have both attended numerous Fringe plays over the years. The Fringe allows a wonderful opportunity to see beautiful art in the making without paying a small fortune. The Collectors does not disappoint.

    We really enjoyed this marvelous play. Days later, we are still talking about aspects of it.

    This play is not presented in a simple and straightforward manner. It requires you to think about what is going on. [ed: personal attack removed]

    Not only was it well written, but the actors were each perfectly suited to their roles and their timing was spot on. (And anyone who did not find Mr. Maggat and Mr. Virtue in their underwear and capes enthralling, let alone humourous, should perhaps consider retiring her reviewer’s pen.)

    At the end of the day, the play costs $10 a seat. See it yourself and decide.

  10. Bramer – please be aware that your comment was edited to remove the unnecessary and unwarranted personal attack against the author that you included, it does not further the conversation at all, and is in contravention of our commenting guidelines. http://www.mooneyontheatre.com/2011/07/11/mooney-on-theatre-commenting-policy/

    Since the rest of your comment does provide information that furthers the conversation I am going to publish it, however, please keep in mind that generally comments with personal attacks included do not get published.

  11. Reviews are opinions based on perspectives, experience, philosophy and a large amount of bravery to put oneself out there Just as it is for authors, playwrights and actors – there is no advantage in personal attacks.

    I really related to the play (obviously)… been behind (in debt of different kind – I may be in debt to the bank too but who knows till the cows come home) so far, that you can’t see daylignt, don’t want to face daylight, can’t handle another reminder (Mr Magott) or even offers of help (Mrs. Smith), had the writers block (why am I there in the first place), had the weird absurd nightmares, yet still need connection (Mr Handyman), the tangential thoughts of better times (the lover) and look for a good times (birthday cake) in spite of the demons wherever you can find it. Been there, still there :-). This play was that last point for me (the great surprise) – that’s why I fringe. 🙂

    see it. 🙂

  12. Dear Willy and Paul–thank you so much for your comments. May I use them on my website? Or extract some sections to use? I got another really bad review and I am starting to panic. Thanks!

  13. I for one was glad for Dana’s review. This was on my long-list for Fringe but knowing now that it’s Absurdist? That’s not my cup of tea and I will leave that ticket for someone else to buy. So yes, I agree with Megan, it’s important to put that in the blurb, not just name-drop Ionesco in the program.

    Good luck with it – I hope your audiences are filled with people who enjoy that kind of thing!

    Happy Fringing, everyone!

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