In Pack Animals (playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival), an unlikely pair of scouts get cut off from Camp Oyster Bay, and have to rely on each other (and the magic of the forest!) to make it out alive. But it’s not as dark as it sounds: sit by the campfire, eat some snacks, sing some songs, and put those merit badges to good use.
The performers (Holly Brinkman as the straight-laced outdoorswoman; S.E. Grummett as the impulsive wild-child) also share co-creator credits, and Pack Animals gives them both opportunities to shine, especially during prolonged segments of physical comedy. Truthfully, nothing about Pack Animals is ever dull, and even when not every joke lands, the chemistry and energy on stage keeps things chugging right along.
The show’s at its best in its longest scenes, especially when the performers are doing material close to their own hearts. Grummett has some important things to say about how gender has impacted their life as an artist and an individual, to such an extent that my genderqueer companion felt called out by some of it. And Brinkman’s got the kind of comedy timing which only comes from (1) being extremely good at your job, and (2) doing it a lot.
I did notice that the show pulls in a lot of directions, though. Pack Animals is a straight-ahead comedy set within scouting and outdoorsy cliches with heavy inspiration from the world of clowning (Morro and Jasp Shit in the Woods?), but it’s also a surprisingly sharp-elbowed takedown of gender roles and patriarchy, and it’s also got elements of Fuckboys: The Puppet Show, and then there’s the healthy dash of burlesque, a little Rocky Horror, a twist of magical realism, the pleas to be heard, the musical numbers… it strikes me that the characters aren’t the only ones who could get lost in this forest.
But they do make it home in the end, and the audience takes the return trip with them. Just stay with the performers: let them guide you through what unfolds. Getting lost with Grummett and Brinkman is a fine way to spend an hour — and even if you don’t leave the theatre humming any songs, you’ll definitely learn all you need to know about the perils of free-bleeding in bear country.
This review is based on the July 4 preview performance of the production
- Pack Animals plays at the Randolph 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; sexual content; not recommended for children.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. We recommend checking in with the venue box office at least 15 minutes before 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.
- Saturday July 6th, 6:15 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 4:30 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 8:30 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 10:15 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 1:00 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 2:45 pm
Photos of (L->R) S. E. Grummett and Holly M. Brinkman by Brynne Carra.