Review: Savage in Limbo (Triple ByPass Productions)

Triple ByPass Productions makes their debut with Savage in Limbo at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre

Triple ByPass Productions is a new theatre company in Toronto and Savage in Limbo is their first production. I’m sure they’ve all worked very hard pulling it together. Unfortunately I just didn’t connect with it. I’m not sure why they chose this play as their inaugural production.

John Patrick Shaney wrote Savage in Limbo in 1984. It takes place in a very basic bar in the Bronx. Five people – all of them 32 – talk about their lives. It’s not a plot driven play, it’s about the characters. In fact it’s all about the dialogue; there is some resolution but there isn’t really a lot of action.

It’s Monday night, the jukebox is broken. Murk the bartender (played by Chris Whitby) is tidying up, sweeping the floor and watering the dead plants. April (Amy Milligan) is asleep with her head on the bar.

Denise Savage (Melanie Pyne) arrives wearing a nondescript halter dress with her bra straps showing, complains about the jukebox, buys a drink at the bar and goes to sit at a table, complaining all the time.

Linda Rotunda (Amanda Armagon) comes in looking gorgeously sexual in a formfitting spandex dress. She and Denise recognize each other from grade school and start talking.

Alice – scrubbed face, pigtails, and sweatshirt – wanders over and they recognize her from school. The three women talk about changing their lives.

Just when it seems as if everything is working out Linda’s boyfriend Tony Aronica (TJ Cheslea) arrives looking very studly in his black leather pants.

All in all there’s a lot of potential for surprisingly articulate, emotional, sometimes funny exchanges.

I don’t know how much director Monica Mustelier was constrained by the performance licence; does the play have to be set in 1984? Must the cast have Bronx accents? Those were the two things that got in the way of my enjoyment of the show.

Accents first. Accents are hard. You have to maintain the accent for the entire piece, every word counts. I admit to having a thing about accents. If they aren’t done well it really does spoil my enjoyment; I find myself listening for mistakes and noticing every time the accent slips.

To give them credit all of the cast was doing the same accent but they weren’t all doing it well. The Denise, Linda, and Tony characters have a lot of lines, some of which are very funny. Their timing was often off enough that the funny lines got lost in delivery. It seemed as if they were working so hard on the accents that they lost track of the words. I would have enjoyed the show more if there had been no accents, or if the actors could have concentrated on cadence and intonation rather than pronunciation.

Shaney’s characters don’t talk the way people talk in real life so it’s challenging enough to deliver the lines in a meaningful way without having to worry about an accent. It wouldn’t have taken anything away from the play. Other than in the program notes there’s nothing that sets the play in the Bronx.

I couldn’t tell when the play was set; was it in the present or was it 1984? Tony’s leather pants suggested 1984 but Denise’s halter top and bra straps suggested the present as did Amanda’s dress. I also had trouble believing that April, who wanted to be a nun and was suicidal and alcoholic, would look so wholesome. I would have preferred consistency in the costuming.

I really wanted to like the production but just couldn’t connect with it.

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 Photo of Amanda Armagon and Melanie Pyne