Weaksauce (Sam Mullins) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review

Sam Mullins in Weaksauce

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.

Details

  • 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.

Performances

  • 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

 

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2 thoughts on “Weaksauce (Sam Mullins) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review”

  1. I just had a fascinating conversation with someone about this review.

    Turns out reviews, just like theatre, are different for every reader.

    What I got when I read this review was “This was a great engaging show, well written, well performed, that (the reviewer) really connected with. With that said, be aware that it’s not going to tread ground that hasn’t been tread before. If you are looking for something other than oft-told white boy stories, then you will want to look elsewhere.”

    I didn’t get the feeling that the writer was saying Sam shouldn’t tell these stories or shouldn’t be given the space to tell the stories. I certainly didn’t get the feeling the writer was saying Sam should be telling stories other than “white-boy” stories (what other kinds of personal stories could he tell?). I took it more as a heads up about what kind of show this is, and a bit of a lament, or maybe acknowledgement that there hasn’t historically been space for other types of stories.

    I suppose some of that feeling comes from my personal take on the idea that calling for making room for others doesn’t necessarily mean pushing existing voices out of the way (unless, of course, those voices are actively oppressive, but that’s a whole different discussion). I think it is useful in a review to point out what might not appeal and why, that way if someone is looking something specific in a show they have the information they need to make a decision.

    The person I was talking to on the other hand read the review as saying “He’s really great, but these stories have all been said and done before, he shouldn’t bother telling them. He shouldn’t have space to tell them. It’s time he steps down to make space for other people.” (she didn’t like that very much, she’s a pretty big fan of Sam Mullins, as am I, he’s a great writer and performer) It’s a VASTLY different take on the review than mine.

    Knowing the writer of this review, I *really* don’t think that’s what he was intending. I don’t want to speak for him, but my gut says that ultimately it was a considered heads-up and not at all a call for Sam (and others like him) to stop doing what they are doing.

    After all, as is so oft said, every story has been told before, everything has happened before. It’s all about the personal take on a story or a piece of art that makes it unique and their own. That’s what makes it interesting.

  2. Hey Megan!

    So I’ve really been thinking a lot about this as well. I honestly could have taken a week, doubled the size of the review and still not be finished, because this is something that’s given me a ton to think about.

    Firstly I want to say that the fact that I’ve invested so much thought into this speaks a lot to the show and why it’s absolutely worth the watch.

    Thank you for clarifying because I’m absolutely NOT saying that Sam should step down from his platform. While I think there should be platforms for all manner of voices, I do think he’s amazing at what he does. Also, that would be incredibly hypocritical of me as a writer and amateur performer myself. I think that he’s a fantastic storyteller; I really hope that was clear, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t.

    However, what I stand by is this:
    Even though Sam tells a story unique to him, I firmly believe that he could elevate the quality of his work even further by finding a way to weave a small acknowledgement that while this is *his* experience within, to use the “white-boy” framework, he does know that stories in this framework are ubiquitous. The thing about Sam’s storytelling is it has an incredible sense of warmth and intimacy to it, and I feel like this acknowledgment would serve to widen the scope of people who could engage with his work simply by letting them feel recognized and therefore invited in.

    Moreover especially given that my friend thought of this independently of me, I think that this is a discussion that would take place regardless of whether I’d pointed it out. So I really believe that if Sam acknowledges it, even in a tongue-and-cheek way, it means he’d be taking the reigns in initiating this discussion. I don’t think that he’s obligated to, I just feel like that small tweak would make a huge improvement on an already excellent piece of work.

    I hope that clears everything up. I really did enjoy Weaksauce, and given how much it’s given me to think about, I will probably see it again.

    Stephen

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