Dinner becomes a family’s bone of contention in Gnaw by Birch Stone Theatre and Theatre Mies playing at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival.
Eerie and atmospheric Gnaw is a Hansel and Gretel retelling you won’t soon forget.
Gretel (Audrey Sturino) and her brother Hansel (Sean Meldrum pulling double duty as actor and playwright) are teenagers growing up in a time of great famine. Their father, Bullpig (Nathaniel Fried), runs a mysterious pack that hunts and robs people while his wife Edee (Mabelle Carvajal) waits at home, dividing scarce food into ever smaller morsels.
As times grow harder, so do morals, and hanging over all of it is the sighting of a supposed witch in the woods.
Gnaw is everything I look for in a good old-fashioned horror play. It’s got slow-build, a vaguely-detailed premise that leaves room for imagination, and one hell of a character in Edee as portrayed by Carvajal.
Look, I want to tell you to go see this show based on Carvajal’s performance alone. Good lord is she terrifying. By all accounts Edee as a character runs the danger of being an evil stepmother trope—there are some gender politics in the play that might require some tweaking—but Carvajal makes her something else.
She is nightmare material.
The rest of the cast does a good job holding its own, too. Sturino as Gretel is another standout. She manages to combine a regular teenager with the perspective of someone living in a dystopia and make it believable. This is a Gretel who stands on her own when it counts but is also a troubled girl trying to make the best of the bad.
I have two complaints about Gnaw, however, that stop it from being a perfect show.
One, the direction is a bit static for such a tightly strung thriller. Director Adrian Young really got what he was going for, but man, sometimes you could feel the need for movement. For example, one scene kept an actor’s back to the audience in a way that outstayed its welcome, even if at first it made creative sense.
These choices are scattered here and there, easy fixes and arguably a minor quibble.
The second problem I want to point out is a scene that added an uncomfortable tone to the family dynamic. Edee’s growing dislike of her children leads to a physical confrontation with Bullpig that, between text and staging, impacted characterization. Gnaw falls into some traditional traps in its writing especially with gender roles, and that scene really brought those traps to the forefront.
Both of those complaints come part and parcel with the good, and otherwise it’s great. I loved the imagery, the sound design, and the world. If you are looking for something to chew on, Gnaw is worth it.
- Gnaw plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Fog or Haze Effects, Realistic Violence or Gore, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Friday July 1st, 05:15 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 11:30 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 04:45 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 07:30 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 12:00 pm
- Friday July 8th, 07:45 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 02:15 pm
Photo courtesy of Birch Stone Theatre and Theatre Mies