Have you ever, in your long and lucky life, met someone who just smiled at you and somehow their smile hit you right in the heart? I have. But never has such complicated, raw, needy nonsense ensued as is acted out in Skunkweed, my first Toronto Fringe show of 2015 (playing at Theatre Passe Muraille in the Mainspace). This production of Skunkweed, an Eric Bogosian play, is 100% Bogosian in plot (sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll) and in theme: what would happen if you stopped behaving as you were supposed to, and did what you wanted instead?
Because id and instinct reign supreme, Skunkweed is a test for a company – actors and director alike. There’s a risk of too much stage business clouding the emotional truth of the show, and an equal risk of playing the bits so low-key that it’s hard to see where it’s all coming from. This production hits the sweet spot. There’s a remarkable groundedness in the acting, enough to fully sell even the most outlandish plot turns while also letting the emotional landscape of the play be really present.
I cringed and bit my knuckles and groaned and shook my head, but I also thought about the times I had wanted, dearly and deeply, to behave as honestly as the characters. To take a flyer, to say the thing, to be the one who does something when no one else will. I couldn’t begin to detail the plot (the spoiler issues alone would derail me in three sentences) but imagine the most train wreck morning-after story you’ve ever heard in your whole little life, and add… well, add everything.
Director Adam Bailey, who also helmed last year’s Fringe Pick Assassination of Robert Ford: Dirty Little Coward, deserves kudos for this, as do the entire cast. Though everyone was great, I would be remiss if I didn’t give extra attention to Chris Whitby, playing Jerry, who manages more with the set of his shoulders than I have seen some actors do in an entire monologue, and to Jenna Harder as Rainbow, who is a little underused considering how obviously talented she is.
I might also have turned the emotional intensity on Chet (played by TJ Chelsea) down a hair, or at least given him a volume control — he blazed out full throttle and left himself nowhere much to go, but that could be as much opening night as anything. It’s a minor critique, and the show as a whole is good stuff.
You might not typically see a 90 minute play during Fringe, especially if it’s not an original work. You might shy away from shows with mature language warnings and endless drug references. But don’t be fooled — Skunkweed is far more tender than it seems from the Fringe guide and overall, quite pleasing.
- Skunkweed is playing until July 12 at theTarragon Theatre. (16 Ryerson Ave)
- Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online , by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. Set your watch to CBC time, and arrive a few minutes early to avoid disappointment.
July 05 at 10:30 PM
July 06 at 08:15 PM
July 09 at 12:00 PM
July 10 at 11:00 PM
July 12 at 08:30 PM
Photo of the cast by Cedric Swaneck