Slaves of Starbucks, produced by MV Entertainment and playing at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, opens with an announcement from a pilot, readying for a flight from New York to Amsterdam. At first, it’s the standard rules and protocol (life jackets under your seat, please turn off your phones) but quickly takes a turn to the bizarre with recommendations for in-flight drug binges and orgies. The shocking lines and references are flung so fast, and with such an unassuming delivery, that it’s impossible to catch them all.
That’s essentially how Slaves of Starbucks goes for its one hour and fifteen-minute runtime. The absurdist satire from writer/star Peter Aterman is a series of vignettes that start relatively normal before turning into a surprising and often scathing look at modern living, particularly in America.
There’s the business meeting where they discover that an Aztec priest performing ritual sacrifice is what’s helping them in the stock market, a trip to Rome where an exasperated tour guide has to field inane questions from American tourists, and a man who was castrated at a shopping mall and left with nothing but a coupon.
A few technical issues get in the way of the production — a wrong music cue interrupted a scene where Celine Dion praised Hitler, and the music drowned out the dialogue more than once. Aterman also had a persistent cough, especially when trying to use a high-pitched voice, that wouldn’t have been as noticeable if he weren’t playing all 19 characters and couldn’t take a break to clear his throat.
The transitions between scenes see Aterman dancing to a variety of music, which was sometimes jarring and often felt disconnected. A few times it would blend into the next scene, like a playful, girlish dance before Celine Dion feels herself while quoting Mein Kampf, but other times it seemed like a complete non-sequitur.
Aterman’s words were the high point of Slaves of Starbucks, and could have been served better by the production. It’s the clever quips and barbs about American culture, or lack thereof, that sells the satire.
While the play began with the outrageous, it ended on a much more somber note: another airline announcement, this time from a German pilot announcing God is dead, and that it’s okay to kill yourself in the bathroom. The fun is over.
- Slaves of Starbucks plays at the Al Green Theatre. (750 Spadina Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Mature language; Sexual content; Unsuitable for minors.
- This venue is barrier-free. Note that only certain building entrances are wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in front of the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Wednesday July 4th, 8:15 pm
- Friday July 6th, 10:00 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 1:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 10:15 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 4:30 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 1:45 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 7:30 pm
Photo of Peter Aterman provided by company