What if you got the opportunity of the lifetime but you had to play up every stereotype you’ve spent your life battling? Bobby Del Rio’s Professionally Ethnic playing at the Toronto 2017 SummerWorks Festival explores the consequences of that decision and has a little fun on the way.
Actor William (Del Rio) lands a position with a big-name Canadian theatre company, embodied by Gerrard (David Sparrow). The catch is it’s his ethnicity that has gotten him the position. Meanwhile his girlfriend Tracy (Chantel Mcdonald) pushes him to fight against his new status as the token ‘ethnic’ representative for Canadian theatre. His best friend Kyle (Rico Garcia) provides emotional support as William struggles with sticking the job out or quitting in favour of his morals.
Blunt, direct, and delighting in its subject matter, Professionally Ethnic is hard not to like. Targeting the Canadian theatre scene, this is a work that calls out the paltry attempts at diversification we see happening in the arts community. It’s not a call to action but a take down of a system that fails to legitimately represent people of colour or even, for that matter, try to diversify.
I don’t think anyone could play corrupt, egotistical theatre-company man quite like Sparrow. The moments when Del Rio and Sparrow share the stage literally challenge the audience not to laugh.
These two are hilarious, with Del Rio attempting to awkwardly please his new employer and Sparrow timing his pauses so that every description of William’s new position is imbued with tone-deaf racist insult at every turn.
And Mcdonald makes the somewhat two-dimensional Tracy live. She feels more complex in her frustration and I credit the acting on that front. As much as I liked the writing, I felt at times the play was underdeveloped.
Professionally Ethnic is an essay with character. Originally published in 2009 in the Canadian Theatre Review, on-stage, the work feels like it hasn’t quite grown into a full show. While writer Bobby Del Rio delivers some fun characters, his writing is blunt and full of energy.
The tension between William and Tracy for example, his frustration at her pushing him to fight back in his auditions just vanishes by the end of the play. Of course, Tracy is given room to conclude in her thesis about how diversity in theatre needs to be considered but it doesn’t quite feel earned as an ending.
As to staging, maybe because its so short, but director Rouvan Silogix relied heavily on blackouts to change scenes. Some of those scenes were little more than two or three lines and having a blackout killed momentum for the actors.
Professionally Ethnic does the job it sets out to do. The fact that despite its limits it was still so much fun while being so damn important to calling out the Canadian theatre community makes it worth checking out.
- Sunday August 6th4:45pm – 6:00pm
- Monday August 7th2:15pm – 3:30pm
- Wednesday August 9th7:00pm – 8:15pm
- Friday August 11th3:00pm – 4:15pm
- Saturday August 12th12:00pm – 1:15pm
- Sunday August 13th6:00pm – 7:15pm
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 1-13 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 7 shows.
Audience Advisory: Please be advised that this show contains coarse language and strobe lights. Recommended for ages 16+.
Photo by Ian Brown.