Review: Bang Bang (Factory Theatre)

Photo of Sébastien Heins, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Jeff Lillico, Richard Zeppieri by Joseph Michael PhotographyToronto’s Factory Theatre stages Kat Sandler’s explosive and scintillating new play Bang Bang

Bang Bang, a new play written and directed by Kat Sandler, commissioned and presented by Toronto’s Factory Theatre, is every bit as explosive and scintillating as its provocative title suggests. It’s also a wildly entertaining night of theatre that alternately had me cringing, gripping my armrest in suspense, and howling with laughter.

After a police officer (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) shoots an unarmed Black youth, a white playwright (Jeff Lillico) draws inspiration from the real-life events for his new play. Complicating the matter is the fact that the police officer is also Black and the dramatization of the incident strays significantly from what really happened. When the play is optioned for a movie, the playwright decides to pay a visit to the (now former) police officer to pre-empt any potential backlash.

With Bang Bang, Sandler—one of the most talented and prolific playwrights of her generation—explores how power, privilege and intersectionality complicate discussions around the big, important issues of the day. Ultimately, Bang Bang explores the idea of appropriation—whose stories get told and who are the ones who get to tell those stories?

The thing I loved most about the play is Sandler’s whip-smart writing. Bang Bang feels so contemporary and relevant but comes at the issues it addresses from such fresh and unexpected angles. At times Sandler aims to tackle these issues head-on; at other times she seems to revel and delight in the moral ambiguity, sprinkling the play with cheekily meta self-references.

The script has a Mamet-like complexity, replete with overlapping, rapid-fire dialogue, the type where the cast needs to perform it with exactly the right rhythm and cadence to make it work. Fortunately, Sandler’s skilled direction and the consistently talented ensemble really make the dialogue pop. The show starts with a (literal) bang and the heightened energy never wavers.

Standout performances for me include Jeff Lillico as Tim, the playwright. The archetypal socially aware progressive white male, his sincere but clumsy, flawed, and ultimately clueless allyship alternately made me cringe and guffaw. His obtuse justifications for appropriating others’ narratives and refusal to cede space to other voices is all too familiar. We all know a “Tim” and Lillico turns in a pitch-perfect performance.

Sébastien Heins also turns in a scene-stealing performance as Jackie, a former Disney child star looking to land the lead in the film. The character is mostly played for laughs, and Heins channels a ditzier version of Drake, but he provides a welcome contrast to the rest of the characters.

By the end of the play’s intense second act, nothing is neatly tied up. There are no easy answers, but interestingly, Bang Bang provokes a range of different responses. I thought the play had a detached, Brechtian quality and was essentially a construct to examine complex ideas, whereas my show-going companion heavily related to and empathized with the characters of Lila (the police officer) and her mother Karen (Karen Robinson).

No matter how you react to it, I guarantee Bang Bang will leave you thinking about it for a good while and provoke lots of interesting discussions. The fact that it’s also wickedly funny and thoroughly entertaining makes this show an absolute must-see.

Details:

  • Bang Bang is playing at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide) through February 18, 2018
  • Shows run Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm
  • Tickets $30 – $50, Student, Arts Worker and Senior prices also available
  • Tickets can be purchased online at www.factorytheatre.ca, by phone at 416.504.9971, or in-person at Factory’s Box Office

Photo of Sébastien Heins, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Jeff Lillico, Richard Zeppieri by Joseph Michael Photography

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