First times are always scary. And in Weaksauce, an original one man show by actor and writer Sam Mullins at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, we experience some of the most intimate and hilarious first-time stories from Mullins’ past.
Sam Mullins is a masterful storyteller, and he carries this show very well. Clocking in at about an hour and ten minutes, I didn’t quite believe that I was sitting down for a Fringe solo show until I got into the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse and saw nothing but a small black chair and a water bottle onstage.
What followed was a collection of stories from one summer as a councilor at hockey camp with a mean British guy, an angry baboon on a trip to African Lion Safari, and a girl named Amanda. Mullins is both vulnerable and affable as he shares his experiences, and when he reached the literal climax of his combined stories I was so enveloped in his performance that it didn’t fully register that I had just spent over an hour hearing about how two 16 year-olds got their funk on for the first time.
In many ways, Weaksauce is beautifully wistful. Mullins carries with him all the youthful romanticism of Chase from Zoey 101, and with songs from Iron and Wine and a quote from Kerouac, I really found myself harking back to my love-struck teenage self.
The thing is, I’m a straight white boy that grew up in an affluent suburb watching Disney and Nickelodeon tween rom-coms, and reading young adult novels that told me about these sorts of idyllic firsts. If I don’t catch myself, I vibe with this material very hard because it’s the narrative that I was raised on and is deeply ingrained into my understanding of the world around me.
It’s fortunate then that I brought my friend Karen, who had a lot to say about the show after we left: “I didn’t find it alienating” she said, “but that’s only because I’ve been immersed in ‘White Boy’ culture for so long.” She said that she was acutely aware of the fact that we’d just spent over an hour listening to a guy’s story about losing his virginity.
As an Asian woman, Karen’s life experience differs from mine and Mullins’. And her commentary confirmed my suspicions that ultimately the content feels a bit tired, something we’ve seen so many times before. Here’s the thing, Mullin’s is a storyteller, he is talking about his life and experiences, as storytellers often do. He also happens to be a white straight-presenting boy, exactly the people who have had access to audiences and told their stories for ages.
Though I found parts of it to be problematic, there was still a certain beauty in how Weaksauce moved me, not only through Mullins’ stories but in the way that those stories made me reflect on my own experiences. But our shared perspective is one that you’ve heard before, and I’m sure that it will appeal much more to some than others, and it’s something to consider.
The perfomance is excellent and Mullins is a very funny guy. His writing flits between laugh-out-loud and touchingly funny . I took a lot longer than usual writing this review, because I know this is someone’s personal experience and this next part has some bite to it: for me, the core content was tiring and lacking in the understanding of perspective that could elevate this production further than a highly romanticized and poetic version of the story I’ve heard many times before.
- Weaksauce plays at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. (79 St. George St.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Wednesday July 5th, 10:00 pm
- Friday July 7th, 08:45 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 02:45 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 06:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 09:15 pm
- Friday July 14th, 12:00 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 03:30 pm
Image of Sam Mullins by Alex Waber