Review: The Art of Being Alone (Moose + Moa Theatre Company)

This one-man show is a “fine debut” for Moose + Moa, a new Toronto-based theatre company.

We all have to deal with loneliness at some point in our lives. For some it’s merely a road bump that we work through and move on from, but we’ve all known that crushing bout of isolation that leaves us curled up in bed listening to the same song over and over again in a twisted spiral of depression and romanticism.

In The Art of Being Alone, Moose + Moa Theatre Company explores this experience in a solid 50 minutes that’s equal parts poignant and hilarious.

One-person shows are a complicated beast. They might be cathartic for the author, but aren’t always entirely gripping for the audience. Probably the best thing about The Art of Being Alone is how deftly it straddles the line between self-expression and entertainment, giving a heartfelt exploration of the pain of unrequited love and the ensuing downward spiral it can cause, while at the same time being knee-slappingly funny.

Stephane (Stephane Garneau Monten) has been rejected. After multiple attempts to woo his potential love, reality has set in that no amount of grand gestures will change the object of his affection’s mind. As a result, he’s become a recluse, cutting off connections with friends and family and replacing them with alcohol, cigarettes and imaginary trysts with Keira Knightly.

The Art of Being Alone follows his process of recovery, from dealing with The Friend (you know The Friend: the one feels the need to help you get back on your feet by being patient and supportive, the selfish monster) to his first tentative steps back into the world, and the mortifying results.

In addition to starring in The Art of Being Alone, Monten also wrote the piece, which allows him to bring a raw honesty to his performance that serves him well in moments of both humour and pathos. There’s a frenetic energy that he brings to the part that gives the play a sense of forward momentum, keeping the piece from wallowing in the self pity that permeates the script. It turns moments that could risk inspiring navel-gazing into a pithy commentary on the inherent silliness of self-imposed misery.

One example comes during Stephane’s first foray into the outside world, when he attempts to chat up a woman at a coffee shop. Egged on by the last vestiges of his self confidence, he asks for her number and initially succeeds. This minor success rapidly escalates into trainwreck territory as he feels the need to explain his actions, a moment that had me laughing and burying my head in my hands in sympathetic embarrassment. In the hands of a less skilled actor, it could have collapsed into a drawn out moment of pathos and cynicism, but instead it flowed incredibly well. Credit for that also has to go to director and dramaturge Isaac Robinson.

As good as The Art of Being Alone is, the production felt like it suffered a bit from its short runtime. At only 50 minutes, it benefits from not having a chance to slow down and wallow, but also doesn’t get a chance to really explore its subject matter. It feels at times like a mere snapshot of loneliness rather than a fully-drawn portrait. With the quality of the scripting and performance, I would have liked to spend a little more time with Stephane.

That being said, the climax of the piece–an outer space fantasy of escape and separation–felt a little clunky. In my opinion, it could have been adjusted a little in order to sustain the energy that had driven the rest of the play.

Structural issues aside, The Art of Being Alone is a fine debut piece for Moose + Moa, and I’m excited to see what they will produce next.