Frank Trotz was inspired to create Failed, playing at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, based on interactions he had while walking his dog in the local park. Saying hi to the regulars, he got to know a man named Stephen Briones who started telling him about his life, the life of a former junkie. At the time of their conversations, Briones was a year into his sobriety staying at CAMH. Taking the story of Briones and giving him the voice of five actors, this is his journey into redemption.
In Failed, Briones’ character goes by the name of Xander and is played simultaneously by Jake Zabusky, Frederico Brujas, Barnabas Cimende, Mark McKelvie, and Briones himself in his acting debut. The five people playing Xander act as his internal monologue, the voices – or demons – inside his head forming chaos, often cacophonous and disjointed, speaking simultaneously. It’s hard to understand what’s being said during these moments, that’s the point. A. K. Shand plays the characters of Angel, Mother, Daughter and Teacher – the various figures that enter Xander’s life.
This story is Xander’s descent down the junkie spiral – heroin or cocaine, often a combination of the two – life at the end of a syringe and the places that path can go. Failed travels there unapologetically. There are frank and unveiled depictions of drug use and physical violence throughout, if this is not to your favor, it’s best to avoid.
Director and playwright Trotz put much of himself and his experiences learning from Briones into this production. When watching this show, I found myself struggling to connect with what I was seeing – the story and multiple conversations with the various Xander personas felt too disjointed and difficult to make sense of. Why was there that off-putting droning sound that went off constantly throughout the show? This is where Trotz’s director’s note in the program comes in particularly handy and made much of the show make sense.
What I originally thought was a lack of chemistry among the actors turned out to be exactly the point. In the head of an addict, their chemistry is changing and being rewired; it’s not going to make sense to anyone else except for the euphoria of the next hit.
When recollecting his past, the various voices of Xander play out the different people Xander encountered during his foray from junkie to dealer to criminal. At the end of the show, “Failed” in the context of this journey makes sense.
While watching this performance, I wasn’t sure if I liked it. At this point, I’m still not sure but with further contemplation, I’ve realized that I do understand Failed and appreciate it for that.
- Failed plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- 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; realistic violence or gore.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in the very front row.
- 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.
- Friday July 5th,
- Saturday July 6th,
- Sunday July 7th,
- Tuesday July 9th, 5:45 pm
- Wednesday July 10th, 9:45 pm
- Friday July 12th, 2:30 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 5:45 pm
Failed cast photographed by Iden Ford at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival