Reviews: FARE GAME: Life in Toronto’s Taxis and THE LITTLE YEARS

by Lynn on November 23, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5FM: FARE GAME: Life in Toronto’s Taxis at Theatre Passe Muraille until Dec. 8, and THE LITTLE YEARS at the Tarragon Theatre until Dec. 16.

The Host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time to find out what’s in store theatre-wise with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. What’s up this week?

Two shows. The first is FARE GAME: LIFE IN TORONTO’S TAXIS at Theatre Passe Muraille and THE LITTLE YEARS at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace.

2) Let’s start with FARE GAME: LIFE in TORONTO’S TAXIS.

It’s produced by Theatre Passe Muraille. Bravo to Andy McKim, artistic director of Theatre Passe Muraille, for thinking outside the walls of the theatre to create his season. Some shows took the audience on a walking tour of Queen Street to find the stories. In others the actors went out to find the stories and brought them back to the audience.

Fare Game: Life in Toronto’s Taxis is the latest Theatre Passe Muraille production to use this technique. The title is a play on words of fare—as in cab fare and fair meaning equitable.

The Toronto Taxi Collective, which put the stories together is composed of theatre artists: Ruth Madoc-Jones, Marjorie Chan and Alex Williams went out and got the stories.They interviewed taxi drivers to illuminate the plight of the drivers to make a living and support their families, to be safe and fight against a system that seems overwhelmingly against them. The hours are brutally long and the financial rewards are not stellar. There is a complicated and expensive licensing system that would stymie the most stalwart.

Added to that are the crazies who have attacked drivers in their taxis and run off without paying. Driving a taxi seems to be a job readily available to a growing immigrant population not afraid of long hours.

The efforts to get the city government to recognize the risks and create legislation to make the driving and owning of a taxi fair and equitable is proving illusive and slow.

3) How does the show work as theatre?

The Toronto Taxi Collective has done an admirable job of interviewing people for their stories; collecting data; going to council meetings regarding taxi matters and paying homage to the mostly men and some women who drive taxis.

As the program notes the collective has chosen a documentary style which combines theatre and film. The three members of the collective tell us of Toronto’s beginnings to establish the place. In 1860 the first cab was owned by an enterprising black man living in Toronto and originally from the States. There are filmed shots of Toronto harbour. There is old footage of cars in downtown Toronto. Occasionally music underscores the dialogue. Interviews are recorded on film and shown as part of the production with the three performers commenting at various times.

The problem is in the style of the piece. It seems clunky. At times Ruth Madoc-Jones, Marjorie Chan and Alex Williams seem so awkward and uncertain in their the material.

Marjorie Chan’s offering has the makings of a wonderful story of the consideration of Taxi Drivers but it’s diminished because it’s overwritten.The set by Trevor Schewellnus is a clever array of blocks that could look like the Toronto skyline, but the actors are so busy moving on and off them, moving things around and using tires for props that it’s just too much. They need a director to help shape the piece and condense the movement and they don’t have one. It’s an important story but it’s not told here as well as it should be.

4) I understand that a lot of the taxi drivers who were interviewed were at the opening.

They were and it was terrific. Andy McKim in his speech at the end acknowledged that many of them who were interviewed were in fact there, thanked them all for their efforts. And the prolonged applause expressed our appreciation too.That spoke volumes.

It’s an important story—perhaps another pass at it would improve it.


THE LITTLE YEARS by John Mighton first premiered in 1995. The Stratford Festival asked Mighton to revisit it and that revised version played at Stratford in 2011. Now the Tarragon Theatre is presenting this new version in Toronto with a few of the same cast and directed by Chris Abraham who directed it at Stratford.

A bit of background. John Mighton is not only a playwright he is also a mathematician. He says in his extensive program note that he struggled with insecurity and a lack of confidence in both professions. He wrote THE LITTLE YEARS to deal with that struggle and get him through it.

6) What’s the story? The play starts in the mid-1950s. Kate is a precocious 13 year old who loves math and science. She muses about the relationship of time and space. She’s quite esoteric in her thinking. She keeps detailed notebooks of her musings and thoughts. Her mother is confused by this and has no time for Kate’s ideas and enthusiasm about it. She puts Kate down at every turn, favouring her more outgoing older brother William, a literary star. Kate isn’t encouraged at school either. Her teacher says that girls should not go into science. He suggests that Kate go to a trade school and her mother doesn’t offer any objection.

Time passes. Kate grows up bitter, disappointed and unhappy. Her sister-in-law Grace encourages and champions her. She suggests that Kate go back to school. Kate refuses. It’s too late for her. But then a wonderful thing happens. Kate’s 14 year old niece Tanya is a math and science wiz. She is encouraged and celebrated.

Tanya tells Kate that she found her notebooks and was encouraged to read them and that Kate is her hero. Tanya hugs her aunt and the effect is instantaneous and transformative. Kate is moved to tears. It’s the first time in the play that anyone touches her with affection. A moment that makes you suck air with emotion.

6) I recall that you called that production exquisite. How is this one?

Ditto. I just love the play. Mighton has created a fastidiously written, emotionally charged play. It’s not about science or math. It’s about the power of love to fill a life and the absence of love drains a life. As prickly and morose as Kate is we know the reason and root for her.

And we embrace the people around her who won’t be put off—her sister-in-law and her niece. The Tarragon production is exquisite in a different way. The space is different and seems bigger, but Chris Abraham has such a sensitivity as a director he knows how to mine each word and second for the full effect.

There is always a distance between Kate and every body else to show her isolation. As Kate’s mother, Chick Reid is all brittle and grimace. She never misses an opportunity to shoot a barb at her daughter. In old age, she is slow, deliberate and still cutting.

As Grace, the kind sister-in-law, Pamela Sinha is tender, quiet and delicate in her encouragement of Kate. As Tanya, Bethany Jillard is enthusiastic and curious and of course overflowing with love for her aunt. Jillard was also in the Stratford production.

Once again, Irene Poole plays Kate and if anything the performance is deeper and more richly mined.The bitterness and disappointment oozes out of her. Her shoulders are hunched as if to protect her from a harsh word. The hands are fisted and jammed into her pockets. She is like an exposed wound and we ache for her. That’s the beauty of the play and production, we ache for these characters especially for Kate.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

FARE GAME: LIFE IN TORONTO’S TAXIS plays at Theatre Passe Muraille until Dec. 8

plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until Dec. 16.

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