I saw BULL and TIME STANDS STILL last week. Both independent, both imported scripts, both interesting, if somewhat problematic productions.
BULL was written by British wunderkind, Mike Bartlett He took the Olivier Award for the best new play in 2013 for this script. I loved his play, COCK when Studio 180 staged it last year, and went in with high hopes.
BULL is a one hour, high stakes drama, set in one room, with no interval. Three employees: underdog Thomas (well-played by Ryan Rogerson), slickly repulsive Tony, (a fabulous Damon Runyan) and sexy manipulative Isobel (a high-octane Diana Bentley) meet one boss (a steely and scary Mark Caven) because one of their heads is going to roll. You know, from the start, who it is going to be.
David Ferry uses the tiny Coal Mine Theatre to good effect, staging the production as a kind of UFC cage match in a subterranean office. All four actors deliver intense performances as Thomas is selected as the victim of the other three, and subsequently bullied, badgered, humiliated, beaten, and then, bludgeoned to death.
People laughed through much of it, but I failed to see the humour.
I am not in the habit of giving away the plot of a show up front, but BULL's script is so remorselessly nasty, so relentless, and makes it so obvious from the start where it is going, (and nothing shifts or changes EVER) that I don't feel I'm spoiling anything. Moreover, the ending is so over the top, it's just stupid.
In life, Thomas probably would have very successfully assaulted Isobel, and then ended up in custody, or just walked out the door, after being sacked. Bartlett had no interest in letting a dose of reality spoil his toxic idea of fun.
The actors all deliver fine work, and the direction is great. The script, however, is nasty, sadistic, unfunny, and utterly pointless. It's worth seeing for the fine acting and directing. If watching people beat the crap out each other physically and emotionally is your idea of a good time, you'll probably enjoy it.
TIME STANDS STILL is a terrific script by American writer David Margulis about Sarah, (Kirsten Rae Hinton) a war photographer with more than a bit of an edge to her, and James (Jason Jazrawy), her seemingly put-upon journalist partner. When we meet the couple, they have just returned home to Brooklyn, after Sarah has been seriously injured in a roadside bomb attack. Her fixer, a local driver/translator/go between has been killed.
Sarah and James reconnect with their best friend, editor, Richard (Sam Rosenthal) who has fallen in love with a younger woman, (Carleigh Beverly) who is much less professionally ambitious that the rest of them.
The play is a very intelligent and thoughtful exploration of the impact of a physical injury on a couple's relationship: with each other, with their friends and on their respective careers. It forces them to examine the role this kind of work plays in their lives. If work has defined their life together, who are they without their jobs? Is work the most important and defining aspect of one's life?
Third World misery, sold for consumption as news, by the chattering classes to wealthy liberals sleeping in warm beds gets a hard, uncomfortable examination. So does that great mid-life struggle: what gives a life meaning, and what brings greater happiness: "important" work or domestic bliss. Can you have both?
Finally, there's the issue for all of us who have lived in more than one place: you may depart physically, but those people and places comes with you, whether you want them to or not.
The remounted award-winning 2014 Fringe hit is directed by Jordan
Merkur, who makes good use of the space, though some of the moments
between the actors could have used a little more focus.
Beverly, playing the younger, air-headed event planner girlfriend ( in my experience, you have to be pretty damn smart and well organized to be an event planner) gives a show-stealing performance, full of warmth and humour.
The other actors are seasoned and capable in their roles, though both Hinton and Jazwary exhibited a disconcerting habit of playing off the house, rather than each other. As a consequence, I felt pulled out of the play at times, and less able to connect with their characters. It's a habit I sometimes observe in actors who spend more time in front of a camera, than on a stage. Maybe it was just opening night jitters.
There's an effective set, a good lighting design and an intriguing play that will give you lots to think about and discuss when you leave the theatre. TIME STANDS STILL is well worth seeing.
TIME STANDS STILL by the TSS COLLECTIVE continues at THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE until Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm March 29th. Call 416 504 7529 for tickets or information.
BULL continues at the COAL MINE THEATRE 798 Danforth Avenue, nightly from Tuesday though Sunday at 7:30 pm, until April 5th. Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com