…And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next (Pressgang Theatre) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Graham Isador by Jillian Welsh

…And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next, presented by Pressgang Theatre at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, features Graham Isador telling us a story about stories. In showman’s jacket, he expertly recounts how he became Buzzfeed-ready, groomed as a purveyor of vulnerability by an editor named Sam (whose eye he caught via one popular article about overindulging at a Mandarin buffet).

Directed by Jiv Parasram, Isador details his failed and eventually successful attempts at storytelling spec work, as he gets closer and closer to the sweet spot that will elicit the most “clicks.” Wrapped up in all of this is an exploration and critique of narrative. In particular, it’s an argument about how the stories we tell and consume shape others’ perceptions of us, and our perception of our own identity. What is the face we show to other people? In Isador’s case, it’s a complex and thoughtful one.

Isador’s stories, on topics such as his first job as a tourist trap’s street-sweeper, a terrible girlfriend, his dog, and the untimely death of a parent, are welcome; they’re sometimes funny, generally “real”-feeling and often captivating. His commentary on their success or lack thereof adds a layer, making us contemplate how we’re potentially manipulated into that connection.

We’re willing participants, though; early on, Isador establishes a precedent of checking in, asking the audience to give a collective “woo!” if we want more. The audience, generally, does. Lighter, more inside jokes about Toronto and the theatre scene give way to darker, more serious anecdotes, as he tries to hit that elusive “something bigger” that Sam demands.

Isador’s delivery has a friendly but detached and flat aspect that doesn’t quite match the warmth, wit, and even effervescence of his language. Some viewers might find it jarring or a little wearying over the course of an hour. However, it dovetails nicely with the point the show makes: can these stories provide true empathetic connection if it’s vulnerability on demand, exploited as a commodity by a “buzzed” community that’s hungry for pain and sadness? If sadness is what’s marketable, do we turn ourselves into sadder people for the sake of the hustle? It’s a fascinating look at the worm behind the clickbait, and how it may turn on us.

The only aspect of the show that didn’t work for me was the self-consciously vaudevillian music cues that Isador mentions as being there largely for emotional manipulation. It would be interesting if they were actually used in a varied and emotionally manipulative way, but they felt generic and repetitive. As well, since Isador is a relatively “quiet” storyteller, I found the occasionally prolonged underscoring to be distracting at best, word-nullifying at worst – particularly in the opening few minutes, when I worried the sound would be constant. It’s not.

It’s a crutch Isador doesn’t need to rely on – as his hundreds of thousands of hits attest, he tells one hell of a story.

Details:

…And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next plays at The Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator (1115 Queen Street West).

Remaining Performances:

  • Saturday August 11th, 2:15pm – 3:15pm
  • Tuesday August 14th, 7:45pm – 8:45pm
  • Friday August 17th, 10:00pm – 11:00pm
  • Saturday August 18th, 9:00pm – 10:00pm

SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12pm-8pm. Cash and credit accepted.

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.

Picture of Graham Isador by Jillian Welsh