It’s disconcerting to leave a theatrical production thinking fondly about tormenting the testicles of the playwright – and mean it in a good way. Which may indeed encompass most of my feelings about To Myself At 28, Sky Gilbert’s SummerWorks production: disconcerting, fond, painful, and good.
In premise, the piece seems simple enough to border on the cliché. An older man gives advice to his younger self about life, love, and work. It sounds like a one way ticket to the Land of Nod, but in Gilbert’s hands it’s fresh and charged. His younger self, played by Spencer Charles Smith, is a self-absorbed youth only marginally interested in advice, and the two battle for the audience’s affection and their own self-worth. Bondage is employed, as well as discipline; the show never veers into the maudlin as a theatregoer might fear. In case you’re concerned, no actual testicles are harmed, or even displayed, on stage (more’s the pity), only discussed.
Ed Roy and Gilbert make a good team as director and playwright, respectively. Gilbert writes a variety of complexities and innovations into the script – outtakes and fourth-wall breaking and yes, even a dream sequence – which Roy handles as though they were bread and butter, rendering them less precious and more interesting than they might be in lesser hands. The typically game Smith, as the younger Gilbert, is surprisingly stiff and mannered in a way I wouldn’t have expected from a representation of the louche younger Gilbert. He unbends significantly at the very end, though, so it’s clear he has the range for it. Gilbert’s easy and fluidity contrasted strongly with Smith’s tightness, though, showing a real reluctance or inflexibility of a younger person (an interesting irony, considering that we assign that stereotype to older people).
To Myself At 28 is a short piece, clocking at 43 minutes on opening afternoon, but I believe that’s to its credit – there’s no extra business to pad out the time, for which I was grateful to veteran playwright Gilbert. (Toward the end, I could almost hear him saying “Well, if it’s short then it’s short. There’s nothing else I want to say.”) These are 43 very strong minutes, start to end. The show is humiliating as advertised, but not as much to the aging Gilbert as to the legions of callow youth whom I can easily imagine saying the thoughtless, hurtful and short-sighted things Gilbert the younger shouts at Gilbert the older. I could not really agree with most of it, which eventually seemed to be the point. But what jazz, to stand on stage in his own faded jeans and bright tattoos and let so much be said out loud and about himself. It’s quite a thing to see.
- To Myself At 28 is playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto).
- Show times remaining: Sunday August 11, 7:30 pm; Monday August 12, 2:30 pm; Tuesday August 13, 10:00 pm; Wednesday August 14, 10:00 pm; Friday August 16, 10:00 pm; Sunday August 18, 2:30 pm.
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Photo provided by The Cabaret Company