The Tall Building (It Could Still Happen), now playing at the 2015 edition of SummerWorks, takes place in a building that keeps growing floors. Meanwhile, a city much like our current Toronto (but run by a mysterious “lady mayor”) slowly devolves into a coyote-strewn, apocalyptic wasteland of fire and wind.
In a series of intriguing vignettes, three characters – a closed-off, suspicious woman named Sulla who owns a single pair of magical, fraying pants (Molly Flood); a credulous and sweet 12-year-old boy with absent parents, his own street newspaper, and a 7-11 obsession (Philip Nozuka); and a pompous, ineffectual assassin (Clinton Carew) – reach an uneasy détente as the world outside burns.
The world and its characters contain elements of the surreal, and are all more than a little damaged. The fun comes from everything being just slightly outside reality, but inside the realm of possibility, and the ludicrous discussions of the mundane (ramen, cheesestrings).
The show is propelled by the growing trust and rapport between Sulla and the boy (surprisingly believable from an actor more than twice his age), though the assassin attempts to create a wedge with clumsy advances on one side and peer pressure on the other.
He’s the weaker link in the play, talking a good, richly resonant game, but lacking purpose, incapable of doing the very thing he claims he was born for. He’s much like a grown child, playing with the Platonic ideal of the assassin. He’s a funny character, but it’s not completely clear what he (or his employer) hopes to accomplish by eventually assassinating Sulla, despite her familial connections.
The elaborate set (designed by Joe Pagnan) is a complicated nest of scaffolding, which the actors make good use of physically, using it to stretch, climb, and create angles. The space is suffused with a simulation of the growing haze outside; this is great for the occasional surprise appearance and for atmospheric effect, but did cause a bit of tightness in my chest. The claustrophobic conditions of the play may mean it was psychosomatic, but you may want to watch out if you have a breathing condition.
The program is clever. It’s an edition of the boy’s street newspaper with stories from the perspective of each character. Spoiler-phobes should avoid reading it before the play, however, as some of playwright and director Jill Connell’s best lines of dialogue on the stage are also on the page. Those who haven’t seen Die Hard may also want to plug their ears for a couple of minutes.
Recordings (by Matthew Pencer) create one of the best elements of the show, the interplay between two offstage characters, announcers Radio One (Ishan Davé) and Radio Two (Brett Donahue). Our favourite CBC stations provide commentary on the crumbling conditions of the city in the most linear aspect of the show, keeping it on track. The announcements become more and more bizarre, proving very funny, and ultimately even heartwarming.
Like those of an ever-growing building, the pieces here don’t always fit together; with all the arch dialogue, the show sometimes gets either too self-consciously portentous or wacky, swinging dangerously between extremes of tone. Mostly, it manages to find a captivating balance, which is important when you’re 100 floors above the ground.
The Tall Building plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue.
- Friday August 7th 10:00 PM
- Sunday August 9th 7:30 PM
- Monday August 10th 5:15 PM
- Wednesday August 12th 10:00 PM
- Friday August 14th 9:45 PM
- Saturday August 15th 7:30 PM
- Sunday August 16th 3:00 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Warnings: This show contains strong haze effects, onstage smoking, and mild Die Hard spoilers.
Photo of Molly Flood courtesy of It Could Still Happen