Review: Swell Broad / The Homemaker (Covetous Productions & The Peanut Butter People)

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Toronto’s Storefront Theatre presents a tragic comedic double bill of Swell Broad and The Homemaker

Tonight, the Storefront Theatre presents a double bill: Swell Broad and The Homemaker, two tragi-comic plays which examine relationships with a special focus on the perspectives of unconventional women.

In Swell Broad, something between a budding romance and a business transaction unfolds at a local malt shop. She has expectations; so does he; and as the two begin to collide, all hell breaks loose. This script feels eerily post-millennium for something set in the 30s–and perhaps that’s the point. The 30s, like the 00s and 10s, was an era when the old scripts around adulthood in general and gender in particular suddenly stopped working. Young people–here played by Janelle Hanna and Philip Furgiuele–are left to cobble together whatever they can, and the results aren’t always going to be pretty.

To describe the plot at length is to spoil it: playwright Brooke Banning has a thing for twists and revelations, and each is more necessary than the last. However, my guest for the evening found the net result underwhelming: as he expressed it, the show feels heavy on pathos and angst, and the emphasis on social change and power imbalances between lovers connects it to Miss Julie or something out of Ibsen. The trouble he had–and I share this sentiment–is that the tension this creates never really goes anywhere; in particular, the speed at which the show moves through moods and themes robs it of the focus needed to convey its observations. Some scenes need to be longer or better-developed in order to really pop, and in this format, the show feels less than the sum of its parts.

Happily, many of these parts are excellent. The actors are more than up to the challenge–Philip Fugiuele shows an impressive range, going from human cartoon to wounded animal as the evening progresses, while Janelle Hanna smoulders and cracks, deftly underplaying a part which requires nothing less–and Laura Anne Harris’ direction adds leavening moments of physical comedy and light to a production which might have been downright smothering without them.

The second half of the bill, The Homemaker (which you might have seen at Fringe), is easy to enjoy as a delightful, giddy confection. Laura Anne Harris’ one-woman show, directed by Morgan Norwich (with an assist by Darcy Stoop), is initially a thing of light and joy: the kind of show that makes children giggle and old women blush. But when it turns dark–and it does, hard and sudden at that–it still feels like it couldn’t go any other way. In Janet Daniels, Harris has created someone who feels simultaneously larger-than-life, yet utterly rooted in the real world.

Janet breaks into songs, offers her guests refreshments, and swims her way through an ocean of booze as she reveals, rather than tells, her story. Harris’ work as a character performer (you might have heard her name attached to the outstanding Pitch Blond) is at the fore, and the payoff is tremendous. This is an actor doing what she loves, and doing it so well, that we can’t help but share in her enthusiasm, even as she takes us to some truly dark and disturbing places.

Details

  • Swell Broad and The Homemaker play as a double bill at the Storefront Theatre through April 13th, 2014.
  • Performances run nightly at 8:00 PM through Saturday, followed by a Sunday matinee at 4:00 PM.
  • Tickets cost $20, $15 for students or arts workers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. (Cash only, box office opens 30 minutes before performances.)
  • Be aware that this performance involves frank, but non-gratuitous, treatment of sexuality.

Photograph of (L->R) Janelle Hanna, Philip Furgiuele and Laura Anne Harris provided by the company.

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