Review: Genesis & Other Stories (Aim for the Tangent)

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Poking comedic fun at biblical tales, Genesis & Other Stories is playing at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre

Genesis & Other Stories (playing the Red Sandcastle) is playwright Rosamund Small’s love letter to amateur dramatics: to 14-hour cue-to-cues held in sweltering church basements and freezing middle-school gymnatoriums; to the tumbledown sets, costumes & props that volunteers dig out of their closets or laboriously assemble with their bare hands and loads of duct tape; and, above all else, to the strange, overly-earnest creatures who inhabit this world.

Director Christoper’s late father adapted the Book of Genesis to suburban America in the 1960s, and–as a final act of devotion–he tries to shepherd his ramshackle cast through the truly awful script for the play-within-a-play.

Sadly, even the otherworldly guidance of our deceased writer can’t save this company of misfits, wannabes and has-beens from their personal and public melodramas.

Happily, we get to laugh at their misery. And laugh, we do.

This cast knows precisely what to do with Genesis‘ loving parody of amdram. Llandra Jones, as Cathy/Eve, tries desperately to understand a script which cannot be understood, and is the only person willing to call a spade a spade; Christopher Laurie, as the director Cameron, parrots all manner of bafflegab and director-speak, tapdancing and swerving his way around the real problems; and Jared Bishop, as stage manager Gavin, is delightful to watch, both during his mental breakdown and his ascent from the ashes, assisted considerably by half a bottle of vodka and an unknown quantity of pharmaceuticals.

Wesley J. Colford’s brittle “professional” actor–he’s played Jesus no fewer than eleven times at churches all over North America–is a treat, especially during the opening of the second act when he unravels more quickly than his own cheap body-stocking. But the real surprise in this cast is Hilary Scott as Amber/Satan, a debutante who has gotten her first taste of the limelight and now craves more, moreMORE. On Amber’s account, no moment is too small to be overplayed, no pause can pass without an inappropriate monologue, and no part of the show is more important than her single line at the very beginning, “~*PROLOGUE*~“. (Emphasis present in original.) Scott clearly relishes this opportunity to bubble and fester right over the top, and watching her do so is a singular joy.

Real director Vivien Endicott-Douglas has the company in fine form, each character endearing yet dysfunctional: we want these five people to succeed just nearly as much as we want them to fail and fall flat on their asses. The melodrama which playwright Small has poured throughout the play-within-a-play is given all of the room to breathe it requires, complete with appalling mugging and unapologetic gasping, yet the “real” characters remain fully-grounded, or at least as grounded as a substance-dependent stage manager and four frazzled thespians will ever get.

My only complaint is that this show feels like it needs to be bigger, in almost every respect. It could stand an extra half-hour of content; it could carry an additional character or two; it could bear more interaction between the players; there are obvious slots for more jokes, more content, more exposition. This is for good reason: Genesis is a remount of a show that Aim for the Tangent has played at Fringe festivals all over the place, and under those circumstances concessions must be made to the obey-or-else runtime and technical limitations.

But not here. When you’re no longer beholden to a festival’s rulebook, there’s no reason to squeeze this much show into a one-hour block, and several parts–the ending most of all!–feel like they need more meat on them.

That being said, what remains is invigorating, creative, hilarious, and often very affectionate. Small, Endicott-Douglas and this company clearly have a high regard for low-level theatre: even when things don’t go according to plan, the coming-together of a disparate community to create something beautiful is still a wonderful and rewarding and worthwhile thing.

And Genesis & Other Stories is a worthy tribute to it.

Details

  • Genesis & Other Stories plays through February 16th at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. (922 Queen East, near Carlaw.)
  • Shows are nightly Wednesday through Friday at 8 PM. Saturdays 7 PM and 9 PM.
  • Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 walk-up.
  • Tickets may be purchased online, by phone (416-845-9411) or at the door. (Walk-up purchases are cash only.)

Photograph of the cast (L -> R: Wesley J. Colford, Hilary Scott, Cameron Laurie, Llyandra Jones & Jared Bishop) by Nicholas Porteous.