After Wrestling explores love, death, and mental illness, at the Factory Theatre in Toronto
On Thursday evening I saw the world premier of After Wrestling at Factory Theatre. It’s billed as “a slacker-comedy turned suicide mystery” and when I first read that I thought ‘whatever that means’. Turns out that it’s as good a description as any.
It didn’t mention the emotional roller coaster ride my friend Marg and I experienced though. The play can turn on a dime. So many times I’d be laughing and then, literally in my next breath, be crying. And vice versa. Playwrights Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr have written a play that pulled me in and had me caring about the characters from almost the first minutes of the piece. It took Marg longer, about 15 minutes.
Gibby (Anthony Shim) committed suicide and it’s left his best friend Hogan (Charlie Kerr) completely unmoored with no idea how to move ahead with his life. He’s living with his sister Leah (Libby Osler) and planning ways to get his ex-girlfriend Cat back.
The play opens with Hogan, covered in dirt, bursting into the apartment and attempting to explain why to Leah who points to the bathroom door and says “Shower!”. He’s followed by Jaggy (Gabe Grey) a police officer who wants to know if every thing is ok, if it’s safe for him to leave. At this point the audience doesn’t — at least I didn’t — know that Leah and Hogan are siblings nor who committed suicide.
When Leah tells Hogan to find a therapist, he does in the form of Gibby’s ghost who is now a DJ called The Falcon and has a call-in radio show. He begins to counsel Hogan on the side. There’s a brilliantly funny scene where Gibby role plays with a caller who wants to kill her husband. His absolutely calm therapy voice is perfect.
Shim is great in the ghost part of the role but he’s amazing in the part of the role where he’s alive and in the middle of a psychotic break. He’s so believable as someone who has been medicated to the point that they’re barely responsive, moving as if he’s trapped in heavy syrup.
I really like the way that the play keeps building the back story almost to the end while still moving ahead with the story. There are a couple of flashback scenes but the rest of the back story is in the interactions between the characters.
It’s fascinating watching Osler as Leah changed from hiding in a hoodie pulled down over her face and giving one-word responses to everything to the almost manic woman showing her wrestling costume to Jaggy and then minutes later the viciousness with which she kicked him out, to the gentle woman sitting with Gibby in the hospital. I felt as if there’s hope for her, that she might be ok.
There’s not much of a back story for Hogan. He and Gibby both said they were best friends but there’s not really any way to know what Hogan was like before Gibby died. Kerr is excellent as someone in really bad emotional shape who thinks he’s fine, full of plans to get his own place and turn back into the ‘go with the flow’ guy he used to be. He’s so angry at Gibby for killing himself that the anger just keeps leaking out of him. He’s my least favourite character.
Marg’s favourite character, and mine, is Jaggy. Grey is note perfect as the police office who knows he was socially inept and had developed tools to help himself more or less fit in. His passion for wrestling is so strong, all of his insecurities vanished when he talks about it. I love his serious approach to karaoke.
Director Bryce Hodgson has made great use of the space. Part of the action takes place on the stage and part of it on the floor in front of the stage. It makes the space feel bigger than it is.
Jacq Andrade’s lighting also adds to the feeling of more space, focusing on the action on the floor. I also like the blackouts between scenes, very sudden and total.
Miss Langley’s sound design works well, sometimes the radio show is in the background, sometimes it’s the focus. There is periodic radio static that I found irritating but that’s me, I hate that sound. There are also a couple of times I couldn’t hear the dialogue over the music but I suspect that may be me too. It might be time to get my hearing tested.
After Wrestling is a wonderful production. There’s great energy between the audience and the cast; I love it when that happens.
Ultimately it’s a play about death and love and mental illness, or mental health. It’s very funny and it’s very sad. Marg and I liked it a lot. It’s well worth seeing.
- After Wrestling is playing until March 18, 2018 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
- Showtimes are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm
- Tickets prices range from $30 to $50. Student, Arts Worker and Senior prices also available.
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416- 504 -9971, and at the box office
Photo of Photo of Gabe Grey, Leah Osler, Charlie Kerr, and Anthony Shim by John Gundy