The dynamics of fan culture are explored with great performances in this Toronto indie theatre production
The Cue6 production of Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up is an excellent production of an underwhelming play. The stellar cast and creative team are deeply underserved by Joel Kim Booster’s unbalanced and unfortunately familiar script.
Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up tells the story of two obsessed fans of a Twilight knock off (Bill Halston and Becky Park played by Tim Walker and Rebecca Liddiard, respectively) that kidnap the movie’s stars in order to help them rekindle their romance after they’ve broken up. Things spin out of control as Kate and Sam (played by Karen Knox and AJ Vaage) refuse to play into their plot.
When I sat down, I was immediately struck by Christine Groom’s intricate and accurate set design. This set, filled with Jenny So’s props, is so realistic that my friend and I spent the time before the play started pointing out props that we own or that our friends own.
With such a terrific set, my expectations were high for a show that promised me a realistic depiction of the relationships between celebrities and fans that might sensationalize a little bit for comedic effect.
Unfortunately, Joel Kim Booster’s script relies on an outdated, under-nuanced understanding of fan culture as a source of both comedy and drama. The play mocks Misery for being outdated in the first act and then (spoiler alert) re-hashes its plot in the second act.
That being said, the 1990 Stephen King classic won Kathy Bates an Oscar. I don’t mean to overstate the performances in this show by drawing that comparison, but the cast’s respective performances made the play not only watchable but worth watching.
Tim Walker plays Bill Halsten with bi-polar sincerity and menace. Unfortunately, his performance leads us to sympathize with Bill so much that it seems as though we are asked to forgive the fact that he kidnapped Kate and Sam. Still, I think his Bill is creepy enough that it unsettles me that this is even an option.
The same can be said for Rebecca Liddiard’s Becky Park. She enters reciting Becky’s fangirl monologue so naturally that I want to believe her character is more well-rounded than the terrifying caricature we get would lead me to believe. The way her performance builds keeps the character from being as one-note as the script might want her to be.
AJ Vaage plays Sam Lewis as a puppy-dog sweet teen idol, but his performance never seems inauthentic. When Kate calls him “the perfect man” it’s hard to deny his natural charisma and charm. He is effortlessly compelling even though he isn’t given much to work with.
Karen Knox is given the show’s most meaty role as Kate Thomas and she nails it. She’s the antagonist in that she keeps the play in conflict and her challenging delivery easily riles up the other characters. And her dramatic performance in the last half of the second act is really something to be seen.
Even though I rolled my eyes at the way things resolve themselves, all of these performances complicate the plot of the play in a way that should spur productive discussion about gender and fandom politics.
There are certainly laugh out loud moments, but be prepared for a dark, complicated dramedy when you come to see this show.
And please do see it. Toronto desperately needs a daring indie theatre company like Cue6 to bring us performances as stunning as the ones in this production. Even though Kate and Sam underwhelmed me, it makes a clear promise of great theatre to come.
- Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up is playing until June 21 at Fraser Studios (76 Stafford Street)
- Shows run Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Sundays at 3pm
- Ticket prices range from $20-$40 and are available online at cue6.ca
Photo of AJ Vaage, Rebecca Liddiard, and Karen Knox by Alec Toller.