The Grass Is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome (High Park Productions) 2018 Toronto Fringe Review

Cast of The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome with playwright Michael Ross Albert

Who decides the value of art, either artistically or financially? It’s a question that’s been debated for ages, and the characters of The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome, presented by High Park Productions at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, spend one drunken late night trying to come up with some answers of their own.


To start with the production makes excellent use of the Freedom Factory Gallery, a real art gallery space on Dovercourt Road, as its setting. When you enter the space from the street, you’re immediately faced with a room that’s smaller and messier than my first apartment. Why so messy? Caroline (Anne van Leeuwen) has just lost it because another artist at a group show sold a piece before she did, and now Caroline’s destroyed thousands of dollars worth of art. Artists, so temperamental!

While the other characters are at first quick to write Caroline off as just another crazy artiste, we soon learn that everyone is carrying tensions of their own about their relationships and their place in the art world. There’s AstroTurf artist Marshall (Adrian Rebucas), dealing with the recent death of his father, and gallery director Amy (Lauren MacKinlay) who is doing what all artists fear – working a desk job. I also enjoyed Pablo the Intern, played by Carson Pinch, who brings much of the comedy to the play, although I wish his character provided more than just sassy side comments.

It’s not until Caroline’s fiancé John (Richard Young) enters the scene that we begin to see how these characters intersect outside the gallery. Much wine is drunk, secrets come out, relationships are ruined. But sometimes, as we learn, that’s exactly what needs to happen in order to discover something about ourselves. Sometimes, we also learn at a Fringe Festival show that AstroTurf can be a metaphor for life.

I’ve been fangirling playwright Michael Ross Albert’s work since seeing Tough Jews last year, so I was eager to see him tackle a more contemporary topic. The rapid-fire dialogue does not disappoint in this play – even though in this summer heatwave, I cannot believe even the most talented actor who says “It’s minus 40 outside.” Did I mention the set looks out onto the street, where people are walking by in tank tops and Never Nude shorts?

The play, directed by Robert Motum, works best when the energy is high. A two-hander scene between Amy and Marshall early on in the show slows the pace down, even though important character information is revealed. Fortunately, drinks are thrown and non-essential bones are broken shortly after, bringing the emotion back up.

Two theatre-intersects-with-real-life things to note about this production: First, the artwork hanging on the walls is provided by four female Toronto artists. Study it, appreciate it, maybe buy it if your lifestyle allows for that kind of thing? Second, if you tweet #grassastrodome during the run of the Fringe, you may find yourself the lucky winner of the piece of AstroTurf used in the show.

Also, the venue is air-conditioned and they serve beer. It’s going to be 42 degrees tomorrow. I think you know what you need to do.

Details

  • The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome plays at The Freedom Factory. (22 Dovercourt Rd.)
  • 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 Warning: Mature language.
  • The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.

Performances

  • Wednesday July 4th, 8:00 pm
  • Thursday July 5th, 8:00 pm
  • Friday July 6th, 8:00 pm
  • Saturday July 7th, 8:00 pm
  • Sunday July 8th, 8:00 pm
  • Monday July 9th, 8:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 10th, 8:00 pm
  • Wednesday July 11th, 8:00 pm
  • Thursday July 12th, 8:00 pm
  • Friday July 13th, 8:00 pm
  • Saturday July 14th, 8:00 pm
  • Sunday July 15th, 8:00 pm
Photo: (L-R) Seated: Carson Pinch (PABLO), Playwright Michael Ross Albert, Anne van Leeuwen, (CAROLINE), Adrian Rebucas (MARSHALL). Standing: Director Robert Motum, Lauren MacKinlay (Producer/AMY), Richard Young (JOHN). Photo by Megan Terris.

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