Review: Tell Me What It’s Called and Mr. Truth (Tell Me Theatre, Lester Trips (Theatre), Why Not Theatre)

Two challenging, unconventional works currently playing on the Toronto stage

Tell Me What It’s Called and Mr. Truth are the latest examples of the quality independent theatre that the RISER Project has built its reputation on supporting. They are also the latest reasons why The Theatre Centre remains a leading space for risk-taking on stage.

Tell Me Theatre’s Tell Me What It’s Called is a piece of anti-theatre in the same way that Letterman was an anti-talk-show. It builds a performance out of the loose exchanges of a rehearsal session, with little more than improv games meant to put actors’ minds in a state of play.

The show focuses on eight actors and their director, Ximena Huizi, who assigns them each an insect avatar that she asks them to step in and out of throughout the night. Just like practice, she offers comments on things like posture, sightlines, and balancing their use of space as the games progress.

One involves a pair of blindfolded actors assuming the roles of hunter and prey. Another involves changing places and making gestures while jumping rope. Another explores the compromises of romantic relationships through the tension and binding properties of rope.

The idea is to let the audience into the company’s creative process by offering a work that feels and looks like just that: a behind-the-scenes look at how Tell Me Theatre devises theatre. The company realizes it to its full potential by committing to a performance whose artifice is that it has no artifice.

There is no story or plot to follow except the results of the individual games. Instead, we are left to familiarize ourselves with how each actor reacts to the constraints before them, their artistic instincts laid bare and presented as art for an audience to whom very little is explained.

When it came to pushing limits and being fearless in uncertain territory, Robin Luckwaldt, Joella Crichton, Ahmed Moneka, and Elizabeth Staples proved to be adventurous sources of moments of brilliance, abandoning themselves to the context at hand.

Tell Me What It’s Called will bring fascination to those with a drive to create and an interest in fostering a mindset of play, spontaneity, and unforeseen connections regarding their own creative processes.

Lester Trips (Theatre)’s Mr. Truth is a tragicomic two-hander, delivered in sketches, about the process of accepting and getting to know what arouses you. It is a defiantly progressive work, dishing out satire at every turn to combat censorship in the panoply of things that get people off.

Co-stars and co-creators, Alaine Hutton and Lauren Gillis, leave it all on the stage with virtuoso performances that dazzle in their display of characterization, emotional vitality, and comedic timing. From uncontrollable laughter to overwhelming gravitas, we are led where they decide to go in abrupt shifts that never cease to surprise.

The pair explores thoughts on anal play, diapers, abduction fantasies, and nose fetishes through a revolving door of characters made real by their battles between the possible pleasure of these acts and the possible shame they carry in toe.

Hutton and Gillis harness these battles to 1) poke fun at easy answers when it comes to achieving physical satisfaction, and 2) reinforce the importance of working out the ethics of your sexual choices for you and your partner(s) before following through.

Their three-day Mindful Fingering Retreat sketch is a brilliant skewering of the self-help industry. Their Talking Cervix sketch is especially effective at addressing the difference between pain you enjoy and pain you were brought up to believe you have to endure.

The play’s most subversive element is its structure, which combines relentlessly energetic sketches with meditative ones in repetitive, intensifying patterns. A note in the program suggests this may be because it is composed to resemble the rhythm of a female orgasm.

As heartbreaking as it is sweet, sexy, and downright uncomfortable, Mr. Truth is a glorious rejection of conventions when it comes to desire and a celebration of how very difficult it can be to convince ourselves that our needs deserve to be met.

My guest, Steve, thinks Tell Me What It’s Called would be more cohesive without Huizi’s explanations about the specific exercises taking place. He says their wealth of symbolism is already sufficient to take the audience somewhere interesting.

Though he found Mr. Truth’s ending too forced and tidy, he reaped wonder from Hutton and Gillis’ rapid-fire character changes and from how well-rounded each character seemed, bestowed with manias, obsessions, and the physical weathering they leave over a lifetime.

Our disagreement about the value of elevating a rehearsal and a facsimile orgasm to the level of art is evidence of their validity as such, and of the welcomed challenge these works pose to the reigning understanding of viewership as spoon-fed passivity.

Details

  • Tell Me What It’s Called plays until April 24, 2018 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West). Showtime is at 7:00 PM.
  • Tickets range from $5 to $60 dollars and are available online.
  • Mr. Truth plays until April 24, 2018 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West). Showtime is at 9:00 PM.
  • Tickets range from $5 to $60 dollars and are available online.
  • Both Tell Me What It’s Called and Mr. Truth include frequent use of a smoke machine in a confined space.

Photo provided by the company.