“Beat them. Arrest them. Cure them. Whip them. Burn their hearts. Kill them.”
It is a turbulent time in Moscow. It is the age of Putin, the days of the Sochi Olympics, against the backdrop of growing LGBT visibility worldwide. And for sixty minutes during the Toronto Fringe Festival, the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse becomes a window into the heart of a faraway place that is nevertheless very much like home, as it is transformed into a communal apartment in Moscow populated by seven disparate, dangerous, and delightful people, brought to life by Hooligans Theatre: a Komunka.
Komunka is populated by a diverse cross-section of modern Russians: an aged actress trying to hold the apartment together, a slick shark in search of quick money, a drunken boor and his weary girlfriend, and two gay men, one decidedly out of the closet, and one decidedly not. There is one more as well, but you will have to find out about him for yourself.
The play is a character piece first and foremost, and in this aspect it truly shines. It is impossible to choose one actor who stands out among the rest, for each does a brilliant job imbuing their character with life and personality, as well as vibrant individuality; the denizens of the apartment will seem like old friends (or enemies) to you in no time at all.
However, the show’s plot is noticeably weaker than the characters that inhabit it. For all their excellent realization, the characters are pretty universally static, ending the play as more or less the same people that they were at the beginning. If one views the play as not a story but rather a snapshot, or a slice-of-life, this can be forgiven easily enough, but the plot is flawed in one other conspicuous way: you may find the stories you are watching a bit too familiar. If you have any familiarity with queer narratives or stories about queer characters, for example, you’ve seen a good chunk of this play before.
Audience members are given the option of sitting onstage among the actors, and I highly recommend that you do so. The experience of being inside this communal apartment is an engaging and entertaining one that is easily worth an hour of your time. That being said, casual and LGBT audience members alike may wish to exercise discretion: the show contains very frank depictions of homophobia, and homophobic language is used liberally throughout the performance. The show is realized through improvisation; the play you see will not be exactly like the play that I have seen. However, the soul of the performance…the characters…will undoubtedly shine through.
Komunka is playing until July 13 at Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (97 St. George Street)
July 03 at 07:00 PM
July 06 at 10:45 PM
July 07 at 03:15 PM
July 09 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 03:30 PM
July 12 at 12:00 PM
July 13 at 05:45 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Image provided by the company.