Review: 52 Pick-Up (The Howland Company)

Cast members of 52 Pick-Up

The Howland Company uses playing cards to tell a love story on stage at Fraser Studios in Toronto

If you want to see The Howland Company‘s remount of 52 Pick-Up at Fraser Studios get your tickets right now. It sold out at Fringe this summer and this production is selling out too. With good reason, it’s a lovely play.

52 Pick-Up, by TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi, is the story of a relationship from the beginning to the end. It’s not a linear tale. Every performance is different. And it’s wonderful.

Two actors take the stage; they throw a deck of cards in the air. Each card has the name of a scene written on it. They pick upĀ  a card and perform the scene. And so it goes through all 52 cards.

Last night Kristen Zaza and Llyandra Jones were the couple. One of the things I love about this show is that it doesn’t matter if the couple consists of a woman and a man, a man and a woman, two women, or two men; it works in any combination.

A relationship is a relationship; sex and gender don’t matter, the feelings are the same.

Jones and Zaza worked really well together, managing the transitions with ease and aplomb. It was easy for me to believe that they were a couple and that I was seeing the extraordinary and the mundane moments of their relationship. I could feel the intense love in one scene and the deep frustration in another.

The actors have to be able to switch emotions from scene to scene. One minute they’re breaking up and then, in the next scene, they’re in wild lust. They don’t know which scene is coming next, it’s as random for the actors as it is for the audience.

Some of the scenes are very short, just one or two sentences. Others are longer and delve more deeply into the characters’ psyches. All of the scenes ring true to anyone who has ever been in a relationship, doomed or not. There were a lot of murmurs of recognition from the audience.

The production feels intimate. Fraser Studio is a small space and there’s no rake or raised stage so the actors and the audience are all on the same level. I was sitting in the front row and there were a couple of times when I could have reached out and touched the performers. I didn’t, but it did add to the feeling of being part of the piece.

The set is two Ikea dressers that get moved around by the actors to represent everything from a coffee shop to the kitchen sink. There are a few props that get pulled out of the drawers when they’re needed. Lighting changes worked well to emphasize the mood of the scene. The production is designed to effectively support the characters without intruding on the intimacy.

Last night there were 24 high school students from around the world in the audience. They’re studying at an international high school in Toronto and this outing was part of their Grade 11/12 Drama program. There were also at least four people over 60. The rest of the audience was somewhere in-between. I love plays that appeal across a wide range of ages.

52 Pick-Up is joyful, sad, touching, happy, funny, and poignant. I laughed and I cried. I wasn’t the only one, there was a fair bit of sniffling and snuffling last night.

Go see it. You’ll enjoy it.


  • 52 Pick-Up is playing at Fraser Studios (76 Stafford St) until March 22
  • Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm
  • Tickets are $20, Arts workers – $15
  • Tickets are available online and at the door
Photo of Ruth Goodwin & Alexander Crowther by Robert Harding

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