Metis Mutt tackles some hard truths with lightheartedness, on stage in Toronto
As a reviewer, I’ve started to recognize certain markers and symbolic items upon arriving at a solo show: what’s on the stage while we wait tends to give solid clues about what’s in store. Métis Mutt, Sheldon Elter’s mobile and moving solo work (running at Aki Studio until February 5th) surprised me—and it kept surprising me.
The piece—which covers a long span of time and has been in process for over fifteen years—traces the arc of Sheldon’s family and career as they twine and diverge. He’s funny and engaging and a natural mimic, and that helps what is ultimately a very difficult story of abuse, loss, addiction, and discrimination feel accessible. It can be a hard needle to thread, especially over the 90 minutes of Métis Mutt. What’s the right balance of difficult truths to lightheartedness?
Elter, with the able aid of director Ron Jenkins, mostly does a very good job of creating a varied landscape. Emotional moments blow across the stage like prairie weather; if you don’t like it, wait a minute. Over time, I found that this choice built up a lot of trust with the audience. We felt able to go fully into the hard parts with confidence that we were not about to be marooned for half an hour in a painful place. That’s a very tough balance, in my opinion, and I salute Elter and Jenkins for figuring it out.
On balance, I might have trimmed a bit out of the show, especially the hundreds of light and sound cues. They were all well executed, but Elter has a lot of charisma as a performer and could, I think, have easily done with half as much jazz and fuss. There were times I was distracted by wondering if the noise would happen on cue, or if the phone would ring in time, and I wished it has been left to us to imagine. However, the comic songs —and especially their evolution from gross racial stereotypes to more nuanced comedy—were a lot of fun (even if I winced at the first few).
Métis Mutt contain some hard moments, to be sure. It’s advertised with a content warning for discussion of domestic violence, substance abuse, and racial invective—a choice I appreciate and one which I sincerely hope doesn’t keep people away. There is a lot to enjoy about Métis Mutt, and also parts that require worthy witness.
- Métis Mutt is playing until Feb 5th at the Aki Studio Theatre (585 Dundas St E.)
- Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tuesday, 31 Jan tickets are Pay What You Can at the door.
- Tickets are $15-$25, and are available online, or through the box office at 416.203.2535
photo of Sheldon Elter by Ryan Parker