Follow parking enforcement officer (PEO for short) Rita Mae Nelson (played by Jamillah Ross) on a walk around Parkdale in St. Peon of Parkdale, produced by Theatre-A-Go-Go and playing at SummerWorks 2019.
Going on a walk through a neighbourhood as you take in a show may sound a bit overwhelming, but this production is very accommodating of mobility issues. The walk is slow. It includes seven rest spots where volunteers set out folding chairs for those who need to sit down, and writer/director Caroline Azar offers her arm in assistance.
Nonetheless, this is still a mobile performance, and there are some steps, slopes, and curbs to navigate. Moses, the audience’s mobile human shield, is a comical and silent sidekick for the entire performance.
The play begins when Rita emerges, slightly befuddled, from a tent. She almost immediately begins to talk through a megaphone about city life, gentrification, her family, existentialism, and parking. The megaphone is an excellent touch, and I was able to hear every word, even when Rita was walking and talking.
The audience members are potential new recruits to the parking enforcement team, and Rita shows us the lay of the land with a lot of humour mixed in with the serious notes. This production is part of the SummerWorks lab programming, and therefore still in development, but it is already very well put together.
As we walk around the rapidly-gentrifying neighbourhood, Rita slowly reveals how gentrification has personally affected her. We hear about her experience growing up in a low income, single parent, Jamaican immigrant family.
Rita is a rule-bound character obsessed with safety and traffic rules, but she herself has been marginalized by the “rules” of city life. Rita militantly obeys the boundaries of her childhood, of traffic enforcement, and of the city she learned growing up in the 1980s.
But the game has changed with the landscape of the city and Rita has been left behind. Rita discusses the meaning of community, interpersonal relationships, and city life from a place of isolation.
St. Peon of Parkdale is a portrait of Toronto, marginalization, class systems, and potential mental and physical illness. Through circular monologues and callbacks, the audience slowly gleans insight into Rita’s life.
Rita is stringent in her practice but poetic in her speech. She touchingly conveys the mythos of her family as it’s tied to the metamorphosis of the city.
The play ends at the corner of Queen and Dufferin, but volunteers will accompany you back to the box office on request. The production is funny, strange, poignant, and the most fun I’ve had watching theatre in a long time.
This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2018. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.
- Friday August 9th 8:00pm – 8:50pm
- Monday August 12th 6:30pm – 7:20pm
- Friday August 16th 7:00pm – 7:50pm
- Friday August 16th 9:00pm – 9:50pm
Warnings: Audience participation and mobile performance
SummerWorks tickets uses a Pay What You Decide system for every show: $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level.
Advance tickets are available up until 3 hours before show time and can be purchased as follows: Online, using the Buy Ticket link found on every show page; In person at the main SummerWorks Festival Box Office the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) – open August 8-18 from 12pm-8pm. Tickets purchased in advance are subject to a convenience fee of $2.50/ticket. Any remaining tickets will be made available for sale at the performance venue starting 1 hour before show time. Venue box offices accept cash only.
Money saving passes are available if you are planning on seeing at least 4 shows.
Photo of Jamillah Ross by Caroline Azar.