by Lynn on March 15, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Erin Shields
Directed by Peter Hinton
Set and costumes by Joanna Yu
Lighting by Jennifer Lennon
Sound by Lyon Smith
Projections by Howard Davis
Cast: Frank Cox-O’Connell
James Daly
Rong Fu
Natasha Mumba
Liz Peterson
Alicia Richardson
Amelia Sargisson
Reza Sholeh

A bold effort by the gifted Erin Shields to write a modern take on the 1697 Restoration Comedy, The Provoked Wife, and centre it around self-absorbed millennials for the most part. Alas it doesn’t work.

The Story. Moxy (Liz Peterson) is angry, frustrated and bored in her one year marriage to Johnny (Reza Sholeh). He is kind, attentive, perhaps obsessively so, and wants to discuss his/her feelings at every turn. She just wants to go wild. She can’t even remember why she married him. In the meantime Johnny has come to the end of his rope trying to understand Moxy and begins to ponder having an affair with a woman named Faith (Rong Fu) who likes Johnny from afar.

This being an observation of the millennial age there is a self-absorbed YouTube star named Charm (Frank Cox-O’Connell). There is Mimi (Amelia Sargisson), Charm’s loving cousin from Quebec; Heartfree (James Daly) a music blogger and close friend of Johnny; Teasel (Natasha Mumba) a lesbian party-girl and friend of Moxy; and Raz (Alicia Richardson) a PHD student. They are all connected at one point or another.

The Production. Joanna Yu has created a simple but effective set. There is a sofa stage right with a table in front of it. Another unit stage left. On the two side walls are framed creations that look like live vibrant flowers. Occasionally Howard Davis’s projections add another dimension to the space and the scene.

Director Peter Hinton’s production is spare and stylish. While the play is about millennials and all their self-absorption and desperation to be hip, cool and with it, Hinton does not fall into the cliché of having them always on their cell phones (though there is one scene in the gloom with their faces illuminated as they hold their cell phones) or constantly tapping on their computers etc. Charm is the exception since he lives for producing product for his YouTube site. Charm is played with exuberant overkill by Frank Cox-O’Connell. He is flamboyant in a pair of tight briefs and little else in which it looks like a week’s worth of laundry is packed into the front of those ‘smalls.’

As Moxy—a wonderfully prophetic name since she has guts and smarts, in other words, moxy—Liz Peterson is world-weary, bored, a bit pushy with her husband and frustrated. More than anything she reminded me of an in-control Hedda Gabler, bored with her wimp husband and desperate to get out. Unlike Hedda Moxy could get out. Natasha Mumba is a fierce Teasel, an in your face party-girl who takes no prisoners. She comes on to whomever she wants with equal vigour. It’s a bold performance.

Interestingly there is a sweet scene of bonding but not with the women, but with Johnny and Heartfree, as Reza Sholeh and James Daly respectively sit side by side on the couch commiserating about their lot in life and how to climb out of their funk. It’s gentle, sweet and wholly credible.

While all concerned are well intentioned, Erin Shields’ script is the problem.

Comment. As I said Erin Shields is a gifted playwright. She has a vibrant imagination and her plays show depth of thought and feelings as well as a keen sense of language. Her intension initially was to write a modern Restoration comedy using The Provoked Wife (1697 written by John Vanbrugh) as the model. In it an abused wife wants escape by running off with friends for some wild times. As Shields says in her program note, the more she wrote the further away from the original model she got.

What we have now are self-absorbed, ‘me-first’ people disappointing others, or people pining for attention and affection from abusive people. I found most of these characters devoid of any reason to care about them. Their dialogue is often laboured and pretentious and I don’t believe any of them would really come up with such phraseology; dwelling on irony and sarcasm. I think Erin Shields tries too hard to make them impressive. If anything I found them depressive. I consider The Millennial Malcontent to be a blip in Erin Shields’ impressive journey as a playwright.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre.

Opened: March 8, 2017.
I saw it: March 14, 2017.
Cast: 8; 3 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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