After an exciting Toronto Fringe Festival, which proved yet again that creating some of the city’s best theatre only needs a shoestring budget and talent, my standards have again been raised.
However, when I went to see The Epitome of Regret—a new musical by Paul Morrison, Iain Gardner and Mark Datuin–just a week after the Fringe closed, I felt like I was stepping backwards.
The Epitome of Regret relies on carnivalesque theatrics – including what struck me as misplaced and excessive vulgarity and racist, misogynist caricatures – to finesse a shaky plot line. Even as a self-proclaimed foul-mouth, I was uncomfortable and my date and I found ourselves counting down to the curtain call.
The Epitome of Regret chronicles the tragic life choices of café owner Kat (Meagan Tuck), her “French” café rival Melodie Bélanger (Nicole Marie McCafferty), and Kat’s self-hating, wimpy secret admirer Julian (Tony Babcock). The characters weave in and out of each others’ lives in a puzzling mish-mash of story which seems to resolve with a disappointing stasis and a few more cuss words.
The musical opens with an ironic ballad eulogizing Kat’s ex boyfriend, whom she simultaneously describes as abusive and parasitic. When he is suddenly – and inexplicably – killed, she spends the rest of the play in mourning. Years later, and still sexless, her “Bosnian” immigrant grandmother (also played by McCafferty) tells her in a silly and inconsistent accent that she needs to “feed her pussycat” – you know, with a man – leading to an unending rant about Kat’s vagina. To make matters worse, this dialogue is repeated in various forms by every character in following scenes.
Those of you who are not fans of the c-word, consider yourself warned.
There were several moments in the show when I imagined the team of male writers envisioning words and phrases that would sound hilarious coming out of the mouth of an ethnic stereotype grandmother, part-time sex-worker, Freudian psychotherapist or robotic French Canadienne. That’s the only explanation I can muster for the most bizarre and offensive moment in the piece – an upbeat song that grandma sings about her experiences incarcerated in Sarajevo where she was locked in a basement with “unwashed men” who violated her “hoo-hoo”.
The music was mostly poppy ballads whose choruses sometimes repeated lyrics – something I’d never seen in a musical before – which stalled the plot development rather than propelled it forward.
Meagan Tuck has a great set of pipes – evenly and tunefully leaping from note to note, while McCafferty and Babcock struggled with their songs.
Not one to pull any punches, my date asked me what the point of the show was as soon as we left the theatre. I wasn’t sure.
I just didn’t get the work. As an artist myself, I have certainly experienced times when my work is not understood. Maybe this is what happened here. Maybe I missed the point, but others would see it clearly.
The Epitome of Regret had its world premiere when I went to see it on July 19, 2013, and is touring Canada before landing at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.
- The Epitome of Regret is playing until July 27th at Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street, at Queen)
- Remaining performances are at 8pm Friday, July 26th and Saturday July 27th
- All tickets are $20 general admission or $15 for students/artists
- Tickets can be purchased online or at the door (cash only)