Review: The Art of Building a Bunker (Factory Theatre/Quiptake)


The Art of Building a Bunker is a hilarious one-man show on social awkwardness on stage at Toronto’s Factory Theatre

In The Art of Building a Bunker, Adam Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia explore questions of sensitivity, political correctness and the socially acceptable through the scope of one man’s experience at workplace sensitivity training. This one-man show was previously introduced to the Toronto theatre scene in 2013 at the Summerworks Festival, now bringing a wry, poignant and frequently absurd sense of humour to Factory Theatre’s 45th season.

Lazarus is the “one-man” in question, embodying the tale of Elvis, a guy who has to suffer through the touchy-feely self-reflection of sensitivity training. Elvis can’t stand being there and makes this pretty obvious throughout the whole show through bursts of hilarious improprieties. Aside from Elvis, Lazarus channels the rest of the sensitivity training course participants including the leader, bringing to life a cast of fully realized kooky characters with only the nod of his head or the flick of his wrist.

Honestly, Lazarus’s performance is beguiling from the very first character transition he makes. Switching from Elvis, to boisterous latina Flora, to irritating teacher’s pet Peter, all in the blink of an eye. The characters themselves are almost charicatures, emulations of stereotypes that still contain enough honest bits to make them believable.

The style of the show comes from ‘bouffon’, which primarily deals with mockery and satire, and I think this was a wise choice to make on the part of Verdecchia and Lazarus. I think we’ve reached an age where people are both terrified to say the wrong thing, completely fearful that they’ll be offensive, or totally uncaring and willing to share their one-sided (often highly derogatory) opinions. I think Lazarus and Verdecchia do a great job of pulling this out and yanking at our cringe strings in a way that’s both thoughtful and entertaining.

Camellia Koo’s wonderfully inventive set design adds heaps to the performance’s absurd qualities. The stage is mostly stark and bare, framed by a large room built out of what looks like PVC pipes. Besides that, there’s only a desk and a few key props that get air-lifted in and out on flies. Hanging from the ceiling upstage, is one warmly lit canoe (you find out exactly what this represents pretty early in the show so I won’t offer any spoilers). I think there’s a lovely correlation between the design and feel of the show and the literal/metaphorical bunker that Elvis is, in fact, building to keep the world’s (and possibly his own) insensitivity at bay.

I will warn you that there could be some subject matter and some jokes that will absolutely offend you, and while that is, in a way, the whole point of the show, it is something you might want to be mindful of. That being said, if you’re open to a piece that will absolutely raise discussion while being willingly enjoyable, I think you’re in for a treat with The Art of Building a Bunker.


  • The Art of Building a Bunker plays until November 2, 2014 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst)
  • Shows run Tuesday – Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm
  • Tickets are $35-$45, PWYC tickets are available for walk-ups only on Sundays
  • Tickets can be purchased at the door, from the Factory Theatre box office or online

Photo of Adam Lazarus by Dahlia Katz.