Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Having just got off the bus from Peterborough to Toronto only a few hours before seeing NEWPLAY may not have prepared me for the most objective response. I found it hilarious, strangely accurate, and an unsettling reflection of the past two days of my life. And it is set in Peterborough as a kind of escape and return serio-comic tale of success, failure, family, and fortitude.

There were times when the layered, absurdist script and broad comic performances, frequently verging on slapstick, reminded me of slightly less intense incidents on the downtown streets of what some call Peterpatch. Over the preceding 24 hours confrontational moments ranged from the manic strains of a young man ranting about their collection of antique coins in a threatening hostile manner, to a frenzied lineup at the maddening Greyhound bus station that felt like a mob waiting to implode. But I am from Peterborough, born and raised, with six off-and-on decades of experience rumbling in my soul. The city has always struck me as a quaint, vibrant, scenic town with an abundance of diversity ranging from abject poverty to immense wealth, incredible arts activity, and all of the chaos, calm, joy, distress, and contradiction that follows.  That is the long and the short of it with many details to fill in. 

But I do not mean to pick on Peterborough. During lunch at a restaurant on Yonge Street, just after arriving back in Toronto, I had a perfect and disturbing view of four young women beating up another young woman in the middle of the road, framed by the mammoth and enticing commercialism of MILESTONES, TOKYO SMOKE, WINNERS, and the AIDIDAS store  Or was it NIKE? So it can all happen anywhere. Strangers intervened and the fight ended. And there is something current and topical and global in all this streetwise signage and hostility, and it can verge on the terrifyingly comic, which is precisely what NEWS PLAY tries to examine and reveal. And it succeeds on many levels. But it needs some tweaking here and there in order to give the plot a somewhat more cohesive crowd pleasing tone. But I did love it in all its disturbing, cleverly crafted, quirky and highly comic chaos that does reveal the mayhem at the heart of many current events. It reminded me of my recent and distant past, my current present, and possibly my unforetold future. A pigeon did fly in the through the balcony door this morning, for the first time in 25 years. Confronting my surprise and mild terror, I gently wrapped said pigeon in a quilt and set them free into the wilds of the sunny overpopulated skies bordering Dundas Square, St. Michael's Hospital, and the dozen new fifty storey (and beyond) condos in progress. Life is rich...

One of the potential developments this play seems to perhaps unconsciously call out for is a song here and there - in the midst of fast paced, well acted, almost screwball comedy. And in the context of NEWS PLAY, the circa 1930's/40's cinematic term 'Screwball' takes on a diverse and poignantly comic tone throughout. The overall effect may also remind one of the issues tackled in the 1987 romantic-comedy-drama Broadcast News (Holly Hunter, William Hurt etc.) 

NEWS PLAY, as an attempt to conjoin issues around family, mental health, unlikely unresolved pseudo-romantic involvement, and the current manipulative aspects of what we, and the man in the orange 'wig' have come to know as a very new and unimproved version of fake news, well, it all works absurdly well as a provocative and complex script. It does a wonderful and very clever job of revealing the ways in which news stories, at the mercy of monetary gain and shallow entertianment value, may never be able to convey truth in any helpful way.

In a longer version, lyrics and music embracing the back stories of each character could add the necessary glue that, as it stands, does not quite hold the piece together. And yet, the ensemble, under the direction of Aaron Jan, provides the audience with many laughs and many fine physical moments that do manage to keep up the rapid pace needed for a one hour fringe play. 

And to return to my own subjective stance, well, in my bio I often use the phrase "I was born and raised in Peterborough. I am still in recovery." It is a lovely place to visit, but in these increasingly troubling financial and political times, it is sometimes not an easy place to be, like so many towns compromised by high rents, gentrification masking rampant capitalist force, and the ongoing marginalization of the poor, and all the chaos that involves. My experience as a Peterborough 'native' is merely a subjective reaction to what I have come to view as a somewhat absurdist life, both onstage and off.

NEWPLAY is well worth seeing as a darkly funny attempt to bring many (perhaps too many) important social issues to the surface, succeeding in a multitude of ways yet faltering here and there with uneven moments that are never quite clear enough about the details of the important social and political parody at its core. 


Wed. July 10 - 5 PM
Fri. July 12 – 3 PM
Sat. July 13 - 12:45 PM

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