by Lynn on October 14, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Rick Miller

At the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Created by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks. Performed by Rick Miller. Directed by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks. Set and video design by Ben Chaisson, Beth Kates and Rick Miller. Lighting, costumes and makeup design by Beth Kates.

Plays at Factory Theatre Mainspace until October 23.

This is the second Toronto incarnation of HARDSELL. The first one had its debut in 2009; was about commercialism and advertising and was not a success.

It was a debate of sorts about greed, commercialism, advertising, manipulating the public etc. between a character who was named Rick Miller (who looked a lot like the actor Rick Miller) and a slick, white-suited freakily made up and wigged character named Arnie. Arnie was Rick Miller’s cynical-twin-alter ego; the one who chided Miller about his guilt about making a lot of money in schlocky commercials and thinking he sold out. Arnie criticized Miller for doing poor paying theatre jobs to make up for that guilt.

Both Rick Miller and his co-creator and director Daniel Brooks, are such consummate theatre creators the failure of that first production was a shock. And Mr. Miller is such a gifted, imaginative performer and writer that that failure made me heartsick for him rather than squirmy and irritated.

I knew that this new version of HARDSELL had been reworked and re-imagined so I looked forward to this ‘revision.’

The first thing that is different is that 15 minutes before show-time Mr. Miller is in the lobby, behind a table full of his merchandise that he is selling—videos of his shows; scripts; etc. There are posters of his shows as well, I believe. As always Mr. Miller is smiling, charming. There is nothing subtle or for that matter ‘hard’ about his desire to sell his shows. We are fully aware of what he is doing. I’m sure he made some sales. Bravo for the pluck.

Once inside the theatre the stage is also full of stuff: a photocopier stage right; a poster of the opera he did in which he played Brian Mulroney. There is a table over there on which is a laptop, another table upstage. A large screen hangs down from the flies. Pithy remarks about advertising and selling are projected on the screen….stuff about advertising being mostly lies, how it manipulates etc. Goethe, Einstein and John Kenneth Galbraith are some of the people quoted.

The personable Mr. Miller gives us a quick rundown on the first version of HARDSELL. He mentions the cynical Arnie and that Arnie will not be appearing in this new version. (Yippee, I didn’t think Arnie ‘worked’ in the first version. His smarm just bogged down the show.)

Miller says that his director Daniel Brooks has now stepped aside (sort of) and let Mr. Miller strip the show down and start again without interference.

Miller says that this new version of HARDSELL is part lecture, part performance piece about marketing and molecular biology: ‘the sell and the cell’ as the program says. Marketing is about selling a message that gets passed along and along, and in molecular biology, the cell grows when it reproduces.

His discourse is quick, dense and loaded with research and often esoteric thoughts about marketing, manipulation and power. He talks about how pervasive the effect of the Coca-Cola Company is and how much damage they do in the world. He says this while quaffing a thirst-quenching can of Coca-Cola. He almost winks at us at the irony. All the while images flash on the screen behind him as he flicks the device in his hand that changes the image.

He gets flustered, loses his place in show then goes to a table to check the script and find his place. (He doesn’t know the show yet??) He holds the laptop checking other facts.

He tells us he had a small part in an American commercial that made him more money than he would have made in a year doing theatre and that embarrasses him. He talks about how he had to make a living for his family; how he agonized about some decisions he made to do it. He believes in giving to charity and that all the monies from this run of HARDSELL would be donated to his favourite charity. Hmmmm I wonder why he tells us that rather than keeping it to himself?

Then a strange voice comes out of him. Arnie’s. Rough, hard, cynical. Miller goes upstage, his back to us, and begins putting on Arnie’s wig, his garish make-up, then his white suit. Arnie riffs on how Rick Miller is a hypocrite. He swaggers, lectures, hectors.

Arnie stands with his back to us while he makes a sketch of something he sees on the screen. His mutters and mumbles to himself, seemingly forgetting the audience. This goes on for five minutes or so. He makes several copies of the sketch in the photocopy machine. He hands them out to the people in the front row and tells them they can keep them or sell them or whatever.

More discourse. Rick says that Arnie is taking over his show. And on and on.


HARDSELL is rambling, unfocused, poorly structured, self-indulgent, pretentious and disingenuous. ‘Advertising lies’ said the quote on the screen in the theater. So does Rick Miller when he says Arnie would not be appearing, and there he was after Rick Miller put on the wig, make-up and suit. Still bogging down the show.

As a result I don’t believe a word Mr. Miller says during his show, including his thank you to us from the bottom of his heart that we came to see it.

I hated HARDSELL, and that’s no lie.

HARDSELL plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until Oct. 23.

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