Review: Problem Child (NightShift Theatre)

Problem Child

Toronto’s NightShift Theatre presents a thoughtful and engaging production of Problem Child

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the closed door of a seedy motel room, you might find an answer or two right now at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. The storefront venue has been completely transformed into a stuck-in-the-past motel room, complete with dated décor and bright blue vinyl chairs, as it plays host to NightShift Theatre‘s production of George F. Walker‘s Problem Child.

NightShift Theatre, newly formed by two Toronto performers, is diving right in for their inaugural production, tackling one of the six plays in Walker’s Suburban Motel series. The script is witty, strong, quick and dirty – as are the characters contained therein. The show moves along at a good clip, coming in at under 80 minutes, and manages to find some truly heartfelt moments among its more crazed and unbelievable ones.

The story is about R.J. (Ash Catherwood) and Denise (Katerina Taxia), a couple who has been through more than their fair share of hard times, though many of those times have been brought on by their own actions. Their baby has been taken away by Social Services and they are waiting to hear if they will get her back, desperately hoping that they will. Through interactions with their Social Worker and the often (always?) heavily intoxicated man who works at the motel, we see their story unfold. It does so in both surprising and expected ways, in violent, funny and heartbreaking ways. Walker’s writing is direct and powerful, and the cast does a good job of bringing his characters to life.

I was quite impressed by the use of the space and the intimate atmosphere Director Joanne Latimer was able to create. Utilizing even the venue’s washroom as part of the set (it serves as the room’s en suite bathroom, where some pivotal though unseen action takes place) really made it feel as if we were in the room with them.

I also very much enjoyed the use of live props instead of sound effects. Instead of a “phone ring”, a character answers a real cell phone call; instead of an offstage “vacuum noise”, there was an actual vacuum used onstage. The way the stage was set did limit the lighting somewhat, and meant the audience was quite lit as well, but the fact that the scenes all take place in the same room means a simple lighting design was effective, if not necessary.

Ash Catherwood as R.J. was by far the show’s standout, and both my friend and I felt that his energy and talent were quite remarkable. Janet Bailey was also fantastic as Helen, the Social Worker. She offered a lovely, strong presence in the midst of turmoil and chaos, while also bringing her own comedic flare to some of the aforementioned crazed and unbelievable moments. The show is worth seeing for their performances alone (and for the moments Catherwood spends yelling at people on the daytime talkshows he watches on the room’s tiny TV).

I can’t think of many better ways to escape this unforgiving winter for an hour or two than by seeing a production of a great Canadian play put on by some fine Canadian performers in a cozy Torontonian venue. The company also offers a great ‘pay it forward’ ticketing option – a way for those who are unable to attend the show themselves to support the company while allowing someone who might not otherwise have a chance to see live theatre to do just that.

Details:

  • Problem Child is playing until February 28th at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with a matinee on Sunday, February 22nd at 2PM
  • Tickets are $20 and are available online. Some tickets may be available at the door, and ‘Pay it Forward’ ticketing is also available for the February 24th performance (see website for details).

Photo of Ash Catherwood provided by NightShift Theatre.