Bob Kills Theatre’s Savage in Limbo is a heartbreaking story set in a Cheers-esque bar playing at Toronto’s The Downstage
The opening night of Savage in Limbo at The Downstage began without announcement. The audience was still tittering with quiet conversation when a head slowly rose from behind the stage bar. The bartender (Murk) stared straight ahead with wild eyes. I was right in his line of vision and began to wonder if I was lost in a very twisted episode of Cheers.
And in a way, Savage in Limbo is an odd version of the beloved bar-based sitcom. All the patrons know or know of each other. They confess personal stories and exchange banter. There is even the constant presence of laughter, without the painful requirement of a laugh-track. Even the tagline is reminiscent of a joke: “A virgin, a failed nun and an over-ripe Italian walk into a bar…”.
The show brings more than an answering punchline, but raw bursts of emotion. The emotions that plague the characters are embarrassing, self-absorbed and confusing. Several of the characters want change; are itching for new experiences so badly that they pace along the bar and stare into the eyes of the crowd, as if they are the catalyst to a new beginning. They jump from rash decision to rash decision, hoping for some instant results that will change their life into something more fulfilling.
I found the jumping back and forth to be pitiful and childish, which I think is the point. The characters are vulnerable and filled with all sorts of fears: fear of failure, fear of stasis, fear of ending up alone. Every single character is thirty-two years old and experiencing the mounting tension of an existential crisis. In turn, each character attempts to quash their crisis in order to grow as a person, but realize how difficult the task is to accomplish without appearing hopelessly naive.
I thought the play was entertaining and heart-breaking. It managed to balance the ravings of philosophically challenged joes with good, albeit dark, humour. The performances were strong by all, most notably by the barkeep Murk and his favourite insane customer April White. Though Murk and April White, played by Tim Walker and Caitlin Driscoll, were off in the background their presence could not be ignored. The remaining characters Denise Savage (Diana Bentley), Linda Rotunda (Melissa D’Agostino), and Tony Aronica (Nick Abraham) circled the front like wild animals.
The crew from Bob Kills Theatre gave a stellar performance. The cast gave their all with a sharp script written John Patrick Shanley. Shanley is known for many of his plays, the most famous being Doubt which was made into an Oscar winning film. In a casual summation, Bob Kills Theatre killed it last night.