Broadcast text reviews: PACAMAMBO and FREE OUTGOING

by Lynn on February 1, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Commentary on the City.

Broadcast review of PACAMAMBO and FREE OUTGOING


The following two reviews were broadcast on January 31, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: Pacamambo at the Citadel 304 Parliament St, until February 2, and Free Outgoing at the Factory Theatre playing until Feb 16. Because I was in England for a week, I’m catching up on theatre.


Good Friday Morning, our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin has returned from her travels to London, England and is here with her weekly roundup of what to see. Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


I’ll ask you about London later in the show, but first what are you reviewing this week?


Two shows that pack a punch.

First is Pacamambo by Wajdi Mouawad, the first play by the new theatre company Canadian Rep Theatre.

We had Ken Gass on the show a few weeks ago—he’s the founder and artistic director of the company. It might sound like a play for young people but adults would benefit as well from this powerful play.

And the second play is Free Outgoing by Anupama Chandrasekhar, at the Factory Mainspace, produced by Nightwood Theatre. About the effect of social media on a well ordered life, and how soon that life can go off the rails.


Let’s start with Pacamambo. What’s it about?


It was written several years ago by Lebanese-Canadian writer, Wajdi Mouawad.

Julie is a young person who has been in a mental institution for about three months. The psychiatrist is trying to pry out of her what brought her to that place. Julie had been missing for 23 days with her grandmother. Both were found in the basement of her grandmother’s building. The grandmother was dead and decaying. Julie was alive, barely from smelling all that decay. When her grandmother died, Julie didn’t want to leave her grandmother. She wanted to talk to death and give him/her a piece of her mind.

She was also searching for Pacamambo that her grandmother taught her about—a place of peace; perhaps death; a place where you could be yourself. Is it real? Is it in your mind? The play asks that and many other questions.


Then is it really a kid’s play?


I think it’s for both teens and adults. And both will get the depth and layers of the piece. It is seen through the eyes of Julie. Initially Julie seems like an irritated, belligerent teen. Then we realize that she’s younger than that. She has street smarts but has an innocent whimsy about her. So I put her at nine years old.

There are hints that there are problems with her parents. Her grandmother gave her unconditional love and so the kid is fearless in trying to stay with her and give death a piece of her mind. I love that bravery of the character.


Does the production do justice to the story?


I think it does. You certainly get the sense of the care that director Ken Gass and his company have taken with this work. As Gass said a few weeks ago when he came to do an interview on the show, he feels Pacamambo is a gem and he’s wanted to do it for years.

The set (Marian Wihak)  is simple. The audience is on either side of the playing area. As the audience files in there is a bed at one end with two women sitting on it. One is the grandmother and the other is a dog named Growl, who will also play the Moon.

At the other end is a woman in a white lab coat sitting, waiting patiently with a clipboard on her lap and a pen in her hand.  The psychiatrist. A young woman paces, or sits in a chair up from the psychiatrist. This is Julie and she is impatient and obviously irritated and angry.

When the play starts we realize Julie is a pre-teen. She has been held at that facility for three months and they won’t let her go until she tells them what happened—how did the grandmother die etc.

Julie says frequently that nothing happened and then the play deals with 65 minutes of monumental happenings, for Julie at least. And rather learning of some secret to be divulged to a psychiatrist, we see how a kid coped with the death of her beloved grandmother; dealt with the idea of death; searched for Pacamambo; was tenacious in her loyalty to her grandmother; and revealed the kind of special being she, Julie really was.


Ken Gass has also said that he collaborated heavily with his cast. Does that work?


It certainly works here. I was always engaged and riveted by the direction of Ken Gass. He created that world and it was one of affection and protection. Characters cared for each other and comforted each other even the Psychiatrist.

The acting is uniformly strong. As Growl and the Moon, Michelle Polak is physically agile, inventive with the growl and the Moon. As the Grandmother, Kyra Harper reveals everything quiet and dear about Julie’s grandmother. But she’s feisty and loving..

As the Psychiatrist, Karen Robinson has an easy grace of a woman who is desperate to help this kid so she can finally leave that place. But of course it’s all about Julie and Amy Keating is a firecracker of emotion. She is compelling whether playing a nine year old, a teen or a bitter adult trying to do her job in a ritzy house. You continue to shake your head watching Keating  be a teen or a pre teen in a thrice; or at least wondering how old the character is. I love that mystery.


And now Free Outgoing. What does that mean?


It takes place in India in 2007, and refers to cell phone calls that are free if they are outgoing calls. Malini is a single mother of a son and a daughter in high school. The daughter is a star pupil and the mother has high hopes for her. She does everything for the daughter at the expense of any emotional support for her son Sharan, who struggles as a student.

But one day the daughter has consensual sex with a boy in an empty classroom and the boy videos it on his cell phone and it goes viral. And everybody’s world unravels, certainly the mother’s. People protest around their home at such lose morals. The media hover and clamour for comment. They can’t go outside because of the crowds. They can’t even buy water, which they have to do daily.

So playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar writes about the blinkered world of that family and that culture, but also of the larger world it clashes with—technology and its ramifications, and the cold-blooded world of the media in a frenzy to get a story. The play takes place on the other side of our world but we experience all the claustrophobia that Malini and her family experiences.

I love that.


How do we experience that claustrophobia?


Director Kelly Thornton keeps the action in that one room. People might come and go but Malini stays right there. Soon no one of that family leaves that apartment. The son might go to his own room but most of the action is in that living room. The daughter keeps to her own room.

As Malini, Anusree Roy gives a multi-faceted performance of a woman who has to live by her wits and her charm. In the beginning she is trying to encourage a timid office worker to buy some jewellery cleaner. She smiles sweetly, flaps her eyelashes, bobs her head and generally lays the charm on thick. She is incredulous when she learns the truth about the situation with her daughter. You can see Roy trying to keep her wits about her, but the pressure and the tension build. The movements are quick and full of anger. She flashes her eyes; glares and for a diminutive woman, can knock down anyone who towers over her with just a fierce look.

As Sharan, Andrew Lawrie is impressive as the brother who is fed up being second to his sister, and furious that he is being punished by the school as well because of his sister’s indiscretion.

The last scene is a bit over the top when the media are about to get an interview with the daughter and yet it seems right. The interviewer is a vapid woman out for ratings and a chat without a thought to the family.The media at its most vile—paying for the interview with money and air tickets out. You know it won’t be enough.


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

Pacamambo plays at the Citadel, 304 Parliament St. until Feb. 2

Free Outgoing plays at Factory Theatre Mainspace until Feb. 16.

For tickets: 416-368-3100; or

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