Review: Too Good To Be True (VideoCabaret)

Photo of Ryan Cunnigham, Cheri Maracle, and Patti Shaughnessy in Too Good To Be True VideoCabaret debuts a new play by Cliff Cardinal in their new venue in Toronto

Too Good To Be True is a new play written and directed by Cliff Cardinal and produced by VideoCabaret. The play is a darkly comic exploration of family relationships, the power of storytelling, and what it means to have a home. Fittingly, it is performed in VideoCabaret’s new home at 10 Busy Street. It’s a short wild ride of just over an hour with some very funny moments and some very strong performances.

In Too Good To Be True, Maria Grace, played by Cheri Maracle, is a mother on the run with her two teenage children. Lisa (Patti Shaughnessy), her daughter, is hugely pregnant.  Jude (Ryan Cunningham), her son, is slightly clueless but sweet. After weeks living in a van, Maria breaks into an empty house to hide out with her family and wait for the police to close in. She calls it “the last episode of the season”.

Nothing is exactly as it seems in the Grace household. Everyone’s got a secret. Neither the characters nor the audience has all the information. And Maria is a pathological liar who tells stories to shield her kids from what are clearly some unpleasant truths.

Despite the difficult subject matter, Too Good To Be True has a clown- or circus-like atmosphere. The set is dark black with a black sofa and just a few bright props. The actors are starkly lit when they are speaking. The vividly-coloured costumes are slightly over the top but still realistic. I loved Maria’s fuchsia velour track suit and leopard print top.  I also loved the wigs. Each character’s is streaked with the dominant colour of their outfit – hot pink, violet, and electric blue. The dialogue is short and choppy with pregnant pauses filled by dramatic sound effects such as a crack of lightning or breaking glass or heavy piano chords (dun, dun, dunnnn!)

I thought all three actors were terrific. Maracle’s Maria lives her life as a performance, creating an imaginary world because her real one is too painful.  She’s a fabulous but slightly ridiculous ton of fun with a dark sense of humour.  Maracle’s use of her eyes and facial expressions were particularly effective. Shaughnessy, as Lisa, was the consummate sullen teenager, quick with the eye roll for her mother and insult for her younger brother. And Cunningham was completely believable as the dopey grade 8 kid who sees the world through the lens of superheroes and video games.

My one complaint about Too Good to Be True is that I thought it treated some of the difficult topics too lightly.  For example, when we find out the nature of Maria’s crime, it’s accepted almost too matter-of-factly.  I found it hard to believe they would just move on with a shrug.

All in all, though, I enjoyed myself.  VideoCabaret has been around for a long time, but this was my first time seeing one of their performances.  I’m looking forward to seeing more.


  • Too Good To Be True is playing until May 19, 2019 at 10 Busy Street.
  • Performances are Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30pm
  • Ticket prices range $20 -$40 and are available online or by calling 416-703-1725

Photo of  Ryan Cunningham, Cheri Maracle, and Patti Shaughnessy by Michael Cooper