A candid look at the inner world of pro wrestling, The Heel vs Screwjob is playing at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel
Now, you’ve probably heard that there’s nothing ‘real’ about the world of professional wrestling. But have you ever stopped to think about the lives of those behind the illusion?
The Heel vs Screwjob is a candid two-part Code White production that chronicles the life of one family during the notorious event in the WWE’s history known by fans as the “Screwjob” – where a famous pro-wrestler was supposedly double-crossed by the franchise’s ownership.
The first piece, The Heel is set in a hotel bar where an egotistical pro-wrestler is accosting his way-too-nice bartender. What starts as an unsuccessful attempt at small talk soon devolves into a give and take of passive-aggressive insults; while the dialogue was interesting and well-written, I found very little movement or progression to it, and my interest in the characters–Maddy (Mandy E. Maclean) and showman Owen (Matthew Gouveia)–declined with each passing exchange.
In my view, The Heel could have been much shorter since, by the end of the night, you realize that the whole hour-long performance was intended as a way to add context and colour to what would follow next. As a standalone piece, The Heel felt incomplete, failing to evoke any real emotion or make any poignant social commentary.
What made the night worthwhile was the second piece, Screwjob. Centered on one man’s trans-temporal journey to relive a pivotal moment in his life where everything fell apart, this piece had everything its predecessor was lacking.
The dialogue was just as (if not more) compelling than The Heel, but even more critical was this story’s progression. In this half, we are introduced to a husband (Finnegan played by Step Taylor) and wife (Frances played by Leah Holder) who must come to terms with the horrific events that await them.
Had Screwjob been presented as a standalone piece, it would have been a riveting look at the moral struggle of man trying to balance out doing the right thing professionally versus doing the right thing for his family.
Because both pieces were intended to complement each other, a brief third piece seemed necessary to successfully tie together both elements. Yes, there were nods to a common timeline in each piece to suggest that they were related, but as far as I’m concerned, those alone were not enough to create any real sense of cohesion in this production.
Perhaps the real strength of this play was the way each actor successfully channeled his or her character’s motives and limitations. Whether playing a jerk, a sassy bartender, a bubbly wife or tormented time traveler, each performance was engagingly and believably delivered.
The night’s standout star is also this production’s playwright – Step Taylor. Effortlessly transitioning between a hopeful romantic to a broken and beaten down man yearning to set his past mistakes right, Taylor gave a memorable performance that moved all in attendance.
There’s a lot of potential in this piece, and perhaps with a little reworking of its narrative structure, The Heel vs Screwjob will finally accomplish its goal of being a painting “a larger picture of the long-lasting strangle-hold that addiction can have on an individual and his family”.
- The Heel vs Screwjob is playing at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street W.) until February 15th
- There are two shows nightly, one at 7 PM and another at 9:30 PM
- Notice: each show has a small capacity of only 20 seats
- Tickets are available at the door and cost $15 for regular admission, $10 for students