Review: Sonny Under the Assumption (Old Norman Productions/Native Earth Performance Arts)

Sonny Under The Assumption is Toronto Theatre with Vision and Purpose

Exactly how do people create social change and why do we consider some more deserving than others? These are the questions that hang over Edward Allan Baker’s Sonny Under the Assumption. Over two acts, we follow the main character Sonny Montecalvo (Nicole Cardoni) as she tries desperately to drum up last-minute funding to save her community centre—a place that is running thanks only to Sonny, her boyfriend Rennie (Sean Shannon), and a ragtag group of ex-convicts. Slowly, the characters pick away at the biases inherent in social assistance programs through scathing outbursts and personal monologues. Sonny Under the Assumption is a smart story that is willing to engage with strong moral questions without offering easy answers. There is a lot to praise, not the least is the unique character of Sonny. Played to perfection by Cardoni, Sonny is a woman whose soapbox is as big as her heart. For every frustrating moral rant she has, Sonny is allowed to both be right in her social convictions and exist as a flawed individual who, it is implied, sometimes crosses professional boundaries in her quest to help those less fortunate. Cardoni is supported by an amazing cast. Each and every performance was worth every bit of audience attention. I want to point out Danielle Alonzo as T. Rhonda Hill and Mazin Akar as Victor Pashun who, in my opinion, stole every scene they were in—a true feat when I consider the talent against which they were competing. Unfortunately, Sonny Under the Assumption is not perfect, and the problem for me stems from a tonal and directorial shift. The abrupt change of focus and the accompanying change of pace made a fantastic play into something that, while still strong, was less than it could have been. First, I want to say that Baker’s writing is very strong overall–his monologues are poignant, his characters well-developed, the humour and the drama are well-balanced. From my sheer enjoyment of the brilliant first act, maybe my frustration with the change in focus is in part because I’m comparing excellent to less-than-perfect, but the second act doesn’t feel like the same show as the first. The structure is different, the story changes to incorporate the stories of the co-stars and two independent character arcs, and I lost sight of Sonny. She was relegated to an oft-mentioned, little seen figure. I was let down that the build-up of the first act was nothing more than the groundwork for someone else’s moral lesson by the second. My sister summed this problem up neatly: all the material was great but it didn’t necessarily have a home in Sonny Under the Assumption. Which leads to what I saw as a directorial problem: the second act was inundated with blackouts that, in my view, disrupted the narrative flow. I think this further emphasized the structural problem, namely that the focus changed and pulled away from the tight pre-intermission build-up. These black outs interrupted the story timeline making individual character moments more like a series of quick one-acts instead of being part of the whole. Between the beats in the scenes and the blackouts, I felt like there were multiple endings to this piece. Every time the lights changed I thought everything was finally wrapping up, so that the actual conclusion—which came out of nowhere—lost any impact it might have had. I can’t call Sonny Under the Assumption fantastic because I was frustrated by the second act’s deterioration—especially after such an amazing start. And yet, I think this is one of the strongest new works I have recently seen. There was a solid foundation in the script that leaves me disappointed when I reflect on the awesome the parts that worked. When it is good, Sonny Under the Assumption is incredible. This is a piece with something to say and I agreed with it for the most part. While I found fault I still came away agreeing with my sister who noted that Sonny Under the Assumption was more than worth it. Details

  • Sonny Under the Assumption is playing until July 27th at the Aki Studio in the Daniels Spectrum building (585 Dundas Street East).
  • Shows run Wednesday-Sunday at 7pm, with matinees Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm
  • Tickets are $33; discounted tickets of $25 are available for students, elders, and artists (with valid id); tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-531-1402, or at the door.
  • Discounted tickets for groups of 10+ tickets for $20 each are available. Contact the box office for details at 416-531-1402 or by e-mail at
  • Pay-What-You-Can matinee Thursday July 24th at 2pm

Photo of Nicole Cardoni as Sonny and Eden Brolin as Kat Hellman courtesy Old Norman Productions