“The first word is always the hardest.”
Even as I first entered the George Ignatieff Theatre, Jamie was already waiting for me, grumpily shuffling sheets of paper around her bedroom floor, lost in a futile search for the first word from which all others would flow. Even before the show began, I knew her: I’ve been friends with her, I’ve been in love with her, heck, I’ve been her. And as soon as the first line was spoken, I was spellbound. The show is Concrete Kid playing at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, and it is the opinion of this reviewer that Blue Dagger Theatre has wrought something truly special, almost magical, out of the disparate fragments of modern life and love.
Our heroine is Jamie, teenage poet and lesbian islanded in a sea of stubborn suburban straightness. Her adoptive parents, praying all the while for God to explain why He has cursed them with a deviant daughter, intent to ship her off to a rural aunt for the summer. Jamie, armed with only a fake I.D. and a concrete will, is determined to make the most of what may be her last night of freedom.
Concrete Kid is a true chimera of a show, blending slam poetry and dialogue, hip hop and ballroom dancing, traditional theatre and abstract performance, and just a hint of drag. Each member of the cast is electric, especially during the group poems, which are beautifully coordinated and performed. In fact, playwright Ray Jarvis Ruby deserves special credit; the words they give to Jamie and those that surround her could be placed right alongside some of the best works of slam poetry I’ve encountered, but more importantly, they perfectly evoke the youth poets I’ve seen and heard. “Authenticity” is a dubious term nowadays, but if any show I’ve seen at Fringe this year can be truly called authentic, this would be the one.
Having said all that, I do not believe that this show will resonate equally with all audiences. It has entertainment and excitement for everyone certainly, but not everyone who comes to see it will remember their first gay bar, the first time they fell for someone of the same gender, or the first time they realized that their loved ones saw them as something aberrant and twisted and wrong. But if you have walked the same road that Jamie walks…into the city, in secret, in search of something forbidden that you can’t quite name but know is waiting for you there…then you are really in for something special.
There are indeed only two things I would count as criticisms of Concrete Kid, and the first is admittedly petty: I wish the show was about three times as long as it is. As the lights went up, I found myself craving even a little bit more time with Jamie and the vibrant characters that surround her. The second is that, in light of the show’s setting, a little more diversity in the cast would have been a welcome reflection of Toronto’s multicultural queer community (in all other respects, the show is wonderfully Torontonian).
But nevertheless, Concrete Kid is a powerful and vibrant spectacle in almost every respect: the cast, the choreography, and even the lighting demonstrate passion, talent, and authenticity. This show is simply not to be missed.
Concrete Kid is playing at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Pl.) until July 13.
July 04 at 05:15 PM
July 05 at 12:00 PM
July 06 at 04:45 PM
July 08 at 01:15 PM
July 09 at 11:00 PM
July 12 at 08:00 PM
July 13 at 07:30 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.