The Toronto Fringe Festival provides a venue for writers and directors to tell stories that are often unheard; ones that push boundaries and thrive with the lack of constraints. Unfortunately, Pencil Kit Productions’ Perfect Couples didn’t feel like an example of one of those stories.
The show is described in the Fringe program as “Four couples navigate the impact of mental illness on their intimate community as one of their friends unravels in the wake of trauma. Equally witty and dark, Perfect Couples captures young adulthood, domestic struggle and mental health with evocative insight.”
Mental illness is a factor that has affected my life greatly, so I’m extremely sensitive to portrayals of it. It is often wildly misrepresented by the media and I have a personal stake in better representation . I don’t feel like Perfect Couples offered that.
Val is the character at the centre of the piece who “unravels in the wake of trauma.” Mental illness is portrayed as something that eats at Val’s psyche and eventually contributes to the deterioration of her relationship with her girlfriend Janine. There is no formal diagnosis. There is no acknowledgement of symptoms or proper treatment; it’s just there.
Val is paranoid and often imagines that Janine is cheating on her with her friend Rachel. I rolled my eyes at Val’s speech about not being able to tell what is real or what is fake.
As things progressed, it felt more and more to me like Perfect Couples was using mental illness as a plot device. Plays can do that, but it for it to work it has to be done accurately and respectfully.
There are some pleasant scenes scattered around the play. Claire Keating, who plays another friend named Sophie, makes great use of the material. I find her delivery is consistently wonderful and hilarious. Otherwise, Perfect Couples doesn’t have a lot to offer me.
I didn’t think the writing was especially strong. For one, the ending felt completely unsatisfying. I’m a huge fan of ambiguous endings. It’s always nice to give the audience a chance to come to their own conclusions based on the material given. However, at the end of the play, there’s no conclusion to make, none of the storylines are resolved, and I feel like it spent a lot of time not necessarily going anywhere.
I also really wanted to see more organic, realistic dialogue and fewer stock lines like “That’s rich coming from you.” As well as general tightening of the script, for example, a doorbell would ring, and a character would say, “Someone’s at the door!” Script trimming could happen here since the doorbell already ‘told’ that to the audience.
The show also just didn’t engage enough care about any of the characters or their failing relationships. I found all of them unlikable. As I mentioned in my review of Ten Creative Ways to Dispose of Your Cremains, I usually love shows that feature unlikable characters, as long as I can still sympathize with them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sympathize with these characters.
Additionally, though the play is marketed to focus on numerous couples, they barely scratch the surface on couples who aren’t Val and Janine. I also thought all of the couples were far from perfect. The play shows all of their relationships falling apart, but I didn’t think didn’t establish a status quo where any of these relationships were healthy or functional. If they did, I definitely missed it.
All that being said, I wouldn’t say that Perfect Couples is terrible. There are redeeming qualities and watching it can be an enjoyable experience if you don’t analyze it too closely. It just really was not the show for me.
- Perfect Couples 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.
- Content Warnings: Unsuitable for Minors, Sexual Content, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- Wednesday July 5th, 06:30 pm
- Friday July 7th, 11:00 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 01:00 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 04:15 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 07:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 02:15 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 09:15 pm
Photo of the cast of Perfect Couples by Ryan Dillon