The playbill for this Mind Bang Productions family drama asserts that the play is based on a true story. What the playbill doesn’t tell you is that the play’s true story might very well be yours as well as its creator’s. For an hour’s time during the Toronto Fringe Festival, St. Vlad’s Theatre is transformed into a place of warm welcomes, homemade food, and deeply uncomfortable personal questions: Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And for an hour’s time, audiences are invited to step inside and eavesdrop on one weary grandson’s Conversations with Dork.
The weary grandson in question is Jeff, a young man full of promise and plans, who quietly resents the way he has been tied down: in the wake of his father’s death, he has been tasked with caring and providing for his absent-minded grandmother and increasingly cantankerous grandfather, the titular Dork. Their precarious family arrangement soon begins to break apart as Jeff and his grandfather butt heads over medicine, social values, and the loved one they have both lost, and what began as a difference of perspective escalates until lives and family are both at risk.
Veteran actor Vince Carlin is the unquestionable powerhouse of the cast, delivering a performance that, while often unpleasant and tragic, never fails to be resonant and engrossing. In his role as Jeff’s grandfather, he wears a persona so familiar that you will feel like you have always known him…and indeed, you probably have. He is your acerbic grandfather, or the crotchety old man who lives next door, or perhaps a senior citizen you met somewhere once upon a time. Despite almost never even leaving his chair, Carlin expertly manages one of the most difficult tasks for an actor: he is never obviously acting, but is also never too casual in his performance.
The rest of the cast usually manages to hold their own against Carlin’s Dork, but none are quite as enjoyable to watch. Jeff truly comes alive near the end of the play, but he unfortunately takes quite a bit of time to reach that point, and Jeff’s grandmother, while often hilarious in her obliviousness, sometimes feels a bit too much like a character in a play instead of an actual person, especially in the repeated ramblings and catchphrases that inevitably reappear whenever she is onstage.
Keep an eye on Sara Garcia (Jeff’s girlfriend Jessica) however; while her dialogue is sometimes obvious as such, Garcia conveys a great deal through subtle expressions and body language. One moment she will be radiating warmth and kindness, and in the next she is sending out waves of icy, quiet fury that bring a noticeable chill even to the perpetually-cold St. Vlad’s Theatre.
Conversations with Dork is not what I would call brilliant or electrifying, but it is still a pleasure to watch. The drama sometimes feels forced, but the emotional heart of this show is a genuine one, and between that and some excellent acting, Conversations with Dork earns itself an overall recommendation.
Conversations with Dork is playing until July 12 at St. Vlad’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)
July 04 at 11:00 PM
July 05 at 09:45 PM
July 06 at 05:45 PM
July 08 at 10:45 PM
July 09 at 02:30 PM
July 10 at 03:30 PM
July 12 at 08:45 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.