For their production of Wounds to the Face, Howard Barker’s surreal treatise on identity, director Matjash Mrozewski and the actors from Randolph College have bitten off more than they can chew. Currently playing at the Annex Theatre, this Toronto Fringe offering relies too heavily on its amateur cast to carry a play where strong characters are the main dish.
Wounds to the Face is composed of a series of vignettes that use facial injuries as starting points for discussions on seeing and being seen. There are over a dozen characters from diverse backgrounds, including royalty, a plastic surgeon, a terrorist, and Narcissus himself, most of which connect though themes of violence and impulsive desires while keeping to separate narratives.
The show grows tedious when the action slows, mostly during its many monologues, specifically when a performer’s store of enthusiasm doesn’t match up to the gusto a character requires. Once there is nothing left to draw on to give the words life, things flatten and it’s harder to keep interested. Because so much time is spent on these monologues early on, vignettes toward the end feel rushed and less significant. More pointed emotional references would imbue the performances with some much needed vulnerability.
Barker’s dialogue is another issue for the cast, bordering as it does on the elaborateness of Shakespeare. When conviction and delivery take a backseat to worrying about getting lines right, the ensuing drop in energy can’t be ignored. Hopefully this resolves itself as the run progresses and the words become more deeply embodied.
None of this is to discount how Wounds to the Face is anything but safe. What could have been a refuge in complacency, populated by watered down characters, has in fact more of a David and Goliath dynamic. One where Barker’s frank treatment of base human drives finds breath through emerging artists who are only beginning to acquaint themselves with them. If you’re interested in the Fringe play taking the biggest risk, you couldn’t do much better.
- Wounds to the Face plays at the Annex Theatre. (736 Bathurst St.)
- 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; Realistic violence or gore; Fog or haze effects.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route which requires a staff escort. Check in at the box office at least 15 minutes prior to showtime.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 3:00 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 9:15 pm
- Monday July 9th, 2:45 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 8:45 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 7:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 4:00 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 12:00 pm