by Lynn on December 15, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Evergreen Brick Works, Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Marjorie Chan and the company
Directed by Jennifer Brewin
Musical Director/sound design by John Millard
Set and lighting design by Glenn Davidson
Costumes by Anna Treusch
“Lalala’ Song: music and lyrics by Derek Kwan
Cast: Lucy Hill
Derek Kwan
Eponine Lee
Michael Rinaldi
Courtenay Stevens
Eastminster United Church Choir

A charming, meandering story about a little girl’s imagination and some pesky racoons who help her.

The Story. Billie is a spunky kid who has had a tough time. Her mother has died and Billie misses her terribly. She wants to be in the school pageant but wants to dress as a racoon. Her caring father wants her to go as a ballerina with a lovely tutu. Billie is stubborn and won’t go. What follows is an adventure that takes her into the wilds around the city with dealings with rambunctious racoons; a bit of a set-to with an imposing fox; a garbage fight with the aforementioned racoons; and drinks with a guy down on his luck as a consultant, who reminds us of a guy who is quite popular around this time of year.

There is also a secondary story of a bickering couple who become separated from the group watching the story and find themselves lost in the woods.

The Production. This is the annual winter show produced by Common Boots Theatre (formerly Theatre Columbus). It takes place outdoors around the grounds and buildings of the Evergreen Brick Works. Thanks to the imaginative use of the space by director Jennifer Brewin and her clear set up of scenes while the audience is led from place to place, the Brick works comes alive with human and animal interaction. There is also a choir that sings songs along with way, appearing at various locations adding to the sweet feeling (a different choir every night–I had the dandy Eastminster United Church Choir at my performance)

Glenn Davidson, the set and lighting designer, has created a whimsical world in which Billie’s bedroom is atop a colourful ‘plateau’; a crappy courier company screws up in delivering presents and rambunctious racoons and Billie get into the container of presents and fling them over the space; a frustrated semi-retiree who is trying consulting, is stymied when presents he has arranged to be delivered to kids go missing. He pours out his frustrations to Billie, who listens quietly, while she pours shots of drink that they both down like pros.

The secondary story of Fancy 1 and Fancy 2, the lost couple, is a less than successful addition to the story. It seems to go off the rails. While playwright Marjorie Chan has written Billie’s story movingly and with gritty humour, the story of Fancy 1 and 2 just doesn’t hang together. It seems at the end even to be forgotten but then that is tied up neatly. The play would not be harmed if that secondary story was cut.

Chan has said that she is interested in the city-dwellers’ relationship with animals, and certainly the racoons that live among us. The creation of the racoons in Anna Treusch’s wonderful furry costumes and performed by the cast with glee, constant ‘chirping-racoon’ noise and daring, is a delight. It won’t make us think kindly of our furry black-eyed friends when we see them blithely opening our green bins and chowing down, but for Tails from the City they are a masterful creation.

The star though is a bundle of spunky, attitude and impressive dance moves named Eponine Lee as Billie. How old it this kid? Six? Seven? No matter—she’s a rock star of attitude and confidence and you love her immediately. Derek Kwan plays her loving dad and various animals with style. Michael Rinaldi and Lucy Hill play Fancy 1 and 2 plus a squirrel and a racoon; and Courtenay Stevens plays Not Santa with understandable exasperation. It takes a bit of time to realize who that frustrated guy is, and when we do it’s like a light-bulb moment.

Comment. Tails from the City is a funny, engaging story of a little girl who is trying to cope with a lot of disappointment. The show runs for about an hour and the journey around the grounds is easy. We follow a guide who holds a large, lit acorn aloft and along the way there are folks who light our way with flashlights. The terrain is fairly flat so the journey is easy. But it’s the sense of community that is such a large part of this event. Parents bring their young children and position them so they are always at the front watching the scene. Taller people stand back, who are able to see too. I just love that care that the kids should be close to the action so they get the full benefit of the play and production. And they serve hot chocolate made from chunks of Mexican chocolate. Life is good.

Common Boots Theatre (formerly Theatre Columbus) presents:

Opening: Dec. 14, 2015.
Closes: Dec. 30, 2015.
Cast: 5: 3 men, 2 women
Running Time: one hour

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