I am going to get all Marshal McLuhan for a moment and say right now that the medium is the message. I say that because this is playwright Lana Lovell’s debut theatre production after having so much experience writing for television. The best thing I can say about the script of Elbow Room playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival was that it was educational.
There were a lot of important messages in Elbow Room. There’s lots of discussion about racism and sexism in the film industry as the three characters Nancy (Shanique H. Brown), Saada (Stephanie Smith), and Kia (JD Leslie) sit in a room and talk about being black female actors. With them is the harried junior casting assistant Hanna (Alix Parra).
For me, these discussions were delivered in language that I would have expected at a weekend seminar and not a theatrical performance. Strings of facts and names just came pouring out of the characters’ mouths, including a lesson on how natural scents can help you combat people using smells, and how unscented products aren’t fragrance free. For me, a lot of what was said felt like various info dumps rather than people having a conversation.
Regardless of that, you can tell that the actors are giving it everything they can. Brown and Smith try to have that frenemy vibe that exists between long-competing people with the history and hurts that come with it. There were hints of it that came and went depending on whether the script allowed them to interact as people and not fact machines. And I really wanted to feel that friendly hatred that comes with that kind of long standing competition. The run time is only forty minutes, and I think that if the show ran a little longer they could have been more time to flesh that out.
Thank goodness for Leslie’s Kia. She came in with a bolt of energy and carried it through the show. I loved her reactions and awkward interruptions. I saw her spirited energy every time she had something to say. The times I laughed, it was because Leslie had done something hilarious. It may have helped that she was meant to be the recipient of all the information being imparted.
I think, too, that I didn’t get a lot of the humour. I felt that it was an actor’s play for actors. The kind where all the jokes land perfectly when you have done those type of jobs. I haven’t, so there were moments that other people laughed that I missed. I am also a white dude who isn’t going to face that kind of discrimination, so I realize that I may feel that the show is being heavy handed when it isn’t.
Overall, after writing this review and thinking about Elbow Room, I still think the best thing I can say is that it was a very educational experience.
- Elbow Room 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 (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; not recommended for children.
- 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.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday July 4th, 8:15 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 1:15 pm
- Monday July 8th, 3:15 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 9:15 pm
- Friday July 12th, 6:30 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 2:30 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 6:00 pm
Line art title image provided by the company