I love walking around downtown Toronto on hot summer nights, and I really like site-specific theatre. So I was very interested in St. Peon of the People produced by Theatre A Go Go playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Rather than sitting in a dark room, the audience for the play follows Parking Enforcement Officer Rita Nelson (Jamillah Ross) on a stroll around Queen Street West.
We meet PEO Rita in the corner of the Factory Theatre Courtyard. She’s dressed in regulation blue shorts, blue shirt complete with badge, comfortable walking shoes, and she’s carrying a bull-horn. For the next 50 minutes or so, we follow her on a winding path through the neighbourhood as she shares tales of her life on the parking beat. The walk is slow with lots of stops. Someone actually brings a chair along for audience members who need to sit down.
It’s hard being a parking enforcement officer in Toronto. No one likes to get a ticket, and they put up with a lot of abuse. They are unarmed and considered civilians (something I did not know before the show). But PEO Nelson is committed to her job despite the difficulties. Even when being called names, spit at, and given every excuse, she does not hesitate to ticket the UPS truck in the bike lane or the drunk guy illegally parking in the handicapped spaces.
I thought Ross did a great job as PEO Nelson. She was brusque and bossy, and she kept the show moving along – both literally and figuratively. She was funny and interacted naturally with the audience members.
I think St. Peon of the People has a great premise, but it felt underdeveloped to me. It seemed like writer Caroline Azar was just scratching the surface of what could potentially be a really rich vein for humour and storytelling. I wanted to hear more stories of PEO Nelson’s interactions with the public and meet more fleshed out characters. The two other characters we do meet – Stalker Reg (Stevie Jay), a man PEO Nelson has given multiple tickets to and Star Wolf (Olivia Winston), a local bartender – are only featured briefly.
I liked the walking around, but the locations we visited didn’t really have much to do with the story PEO Nelson was telling. It could have been anywhere in Toronto or even in another city, and I wish the locations had added more to experience.
All in all, it was fun to be out and about on a lovely summer night in the city but I was left wanting more.
- St. Peon of the People plays at the Factory Theatre Courtyard. (125 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: Audience participation; Outdoors; Walking tour.
- 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.
- Wednesday July 4th, 6:30 pm
- Thursday July 5th, 6:30 pm
- Friday July 6th, 6:30 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 6:30 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 6:30 pm
- Monday July 9th, 6:30 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 6:30 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 6:30 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 6:30 pm
- Friday July 13th, 6:30 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 6:30 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 6:30 pm
Photo provided by the company