by Lynn on May 15, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Direct, 601 Christie St., Toronto, Ont.,

Written by Mark Crawford
Directed by Jessica Carmichael
Set, costumes and props by Brian Dudkiewizc
Sound by Sam Ferguson
Puppet builder and show image design by Clelia Scala
Cast: Cynthia Hicks
Matt Pillipiak
Drew O’Hara

A lively, unsettling production of Mark Crawford’s lively unsettling play about a boy who just wanted to be himself but was afraid because of the constraints of his family and by what people might think.

NOTE: This is the Carousel Players’ production that was traveling to schools around south-western Ontario. Seven schools that are part of the Catholic District School Board, cancelled their performance due to ‘scheduling problems.’ It was believed that the theme of the play was the reason. In any case, the valiant Lynda Hill, Artistic Director of Toronto based Theatre Direct that provides theatre to young audiences, invited the Carousel Players to do their last show in Toronto at Theatre Direct. A sold out theatre of children, their parents, teachers and theatre people packed the place. And rightfully so.

The Story. Simon has an assignment to give a presentation to his public school class. He is paired with Abby, the new kid in the class. She has no friends as yet and neither does Simon. Both are lonely and eager for a friend.

Simon invites Abby over to his house where he suggests that they present a play using all the points of instruction from the teacher. The story has to have conflict, a protagonist etc. They rehearse in Simon’s basement. Simon is ready with a story. It’s about Prince Simon who has everything he ever wanted but he’s unhappy. What he really wants is to be a princess who wears purple dresses and plays with Barbie Dolls. Abby is a bit confused here but she goes along with it because she wants Simon as a friend.

They are disturbed by Simon’s thirteen-year-old brother, Zack, who hears the noise in the basement and goes to check. Zack is irritable especially when he sees Simon wearing a cape. He reminds Simon of what their dad has said about his behaviour: that he can’t act ‘that way’, and has to stop pretending. Simon explains they are doing a play for school.

Zack interrupts a few more times when the two young school friends are enthusiastic with their play-acting and certainly when he sees Zack in a purple dress with a Barbie Doll in hand. Simon bought the doll himself.

Zack is challenged to play with them—he becomes a dragon among other characters. There are more references to the father’s dictates of how Simon should act via Zack.

There is some understanding between the brothers regarding being your real self with confidence. There are references to what girls can and can’t do and the same with boys, with Abby sticking up for the rights of the individual to play and act the way they wanted to.

The Production. Brian Dudkiewicz has designed a compact basement set with stairs going up stage left with all manner of props to use to imaginative effect. As Simon, Matt Pillipiak never walks if he can run, jump, twist, attempt to fly and pretend. He is excitable, almost gasping with excitement. He so wants to tell his new friend his secret (that he wants to be a girl) but he hesitates because he’s not sure how she will take this news. Pillipiak establishes Simon’s intense confliction at being a boy, but really wanting to be a girl who can wear a dress and play with a Barbie Doll. Simon blurts it out and Abby (Cynthia Hicks) accepts it as something friends do.

As Zack, Drew O’Hara has a permanent scowl when it comes to his brother. Zack is after all the stand-in for their father and their father has strict rules on how boys should act. They certainly should not be wearing dresses or purple or playing with dolls. The mother seems to be silent during all this. Abbey feels girls can do what they want and so should boys.

There is a game Abby and Simon play when one or the other wants to be their true self. When it’s dark they can be their true self. In the light they have to be the self that convention says they must be. Director Jessica Carmichael has certainly ramped up the energy in this prickly play. The cast is enthusiastic, buoyant, excitable and convey how emotionally wounded their characters are in so many ways.

Comment. Bravo to Mark Crawford for writing such an important play addressing gender issues among others so sensitively. The play examines how children are supposed to act—boys are to be boys and play with boy things, and girls are to do girl things and play with dolls. Anything that varies from the norm invites ridicule and scorn. Crawford illustrates how this blinkered way of thinking is carried on. Zack is deemed old enough to take care of Simon when his parents are at work. Zack carries on his father’s rigid code of behaviour when it comes to Simon. It appears that rigidity applies to Abby as well. She can’t shoot a bow and arrow because that’s a boy thing. She proves Zack wrong.

When Zack is invited to play with Simon and Abby he shows a reticence, as if he doesn’t know how or how to use his imagination. He does soon learn. And Zack does soon learn that his presumptions are incorrect. The fear of loneliness and having no friends is prevalent in both Simon and Abby’s lives and so they cling to each other since they share the same loneliness. The fear of ridicule is repeated often. It is such a rigid home that Simon and Zack live in.

I was glad to be at the performance with teacher friends. Their take on the play was fascinating. One teacher was not keen on the fact that in their game Simon was allowed to be himself in the dark but not in the light. Surely the test of acceptance would be that Simon could take on his feminine persona and become Princess Simone in the safety of his basement, when the lights were on, and revert back to being Simon when the lights were off? Another comment from a teacher is that the acting was too loud, too much shouting. I know the actors were playing excitable kids, but this teacher thought it was too loud. He noted several young kids in the front holding their ears and scurrying to their parents who sat further back. Interesting comments all round. I hope the production can come back for another stint of going to schools. Boys, Girls, and other Mythological Creatures has a lot of important things to say to adults on behalf of children.

Carousel Players presents:

One Performance: May 13, 2017.
Cast: 3; 2 boys, one girl.
Running Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

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