by Lynn on February 12, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Anand Rajaram, Sarah Dodd
photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kat Sandler
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran
Set and Costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Lighting by Graeme S. Thomson and Nick Andison
Cast: Sarah Dodd
Rebecca Liddiard
Tony Nappo
Anand Rajaram
Julian Richings
Paolo Santalucia

A quirky, sweet, hilarious play from the gifted Kat Sandler about an imaginary friend who overstayed his welcome.

The Story. Mustard is Thai’s imaginary friend. He appeared when Thai was a baby to protect and watch over her. As she grew he gave her comfort, support, unconditional love and guidance, with a colourful selection of terms of endearment, ‘poopy’ being my favourite.

Thai is now sixteen. Her family life is in crisis and she acts out violently. Her father has left and wants a divorce. Her mother, Sadie, is sad, drinks and takes drugs. She’s not much help to her daughter. Thai is angry and Mustard tries his best to help her, but he has his own problems. It seems there is a statute of limitations on how long a boon—the technical name for imaginary friends—can stick around and now the ‘boon-goons’, named Bug and Leslie, are warning Mustard he has to go. What to do? A dilemma.

The Production. We first see Mustard looking in the imaginary crib at the baby Thai. He is dressed a red cap with droopy spindles and a gold ball at the end of each spindle, a blue jersey, yellow overalls (hence the name ‘Mustard’) with red pockets, stripped socks (I want them) and running shoes. He is gleeful at being her imaginary friend, and as played by the saucer-eyed, charming Anand Rajaram, he is buoyant, committed to her well being, quick-thinking, totally in the moment and wildly funny.

As Thai grows up he continues to live under her bed, in her room, ready if she needs him. She is becoming her own person—that happens at 16—and while he offers sound advice, she sometimes ignores it. While Thai is the only one who can see Mustard at that point, matters become tricky when Thai’s needy mother, Sadie, begins to see him too.

Designer Michael Gianfrancesco has designed a compact set consisting of Thai’s bedroom with a messy bed, a window through which to escape and return, a hallway off that, a bathroom off that, then a living room with it’s own windows and doors. These close quarters make for quick entrances and exits, much door slamming and the quick, mysterious entrances of Bug and Leslie who come looking for Mustard. Gianfrancesco dresses Bug and Leslie in black leather with leather skull caps and goggles! Bug is played with a touch of the teddy-bear by Tony Nappo and Leslie is played by the soft-spoken and formidable Julian Richings.

Director Ashlie Corcoran and her wonderful cast land every joke, every laugh-line and firmly establishes every situation be it serious, scary or funny. The key to humour is that it has to be played absolutely seriously and no one knows that better than Ashlie Corcoran and especially Sarah Dodd as Sadie. Dodd plays Sadie as a mess of angst, depression, hazy consciousness because of the drink and drugs, and a wonderful off-handedness. Her timing is impeccable. As Thai, Rebecca Liddiard is that troubled, angry kid you want to hold and help. She’s both childish and maturing. She needs Mustard but is growing up and away from that need. She has a kind boyfriend named Jay, played with sweet attentiveness by Paolo Santalucia. Jay could be Thai’s real friend who would take the place of the imaginary Mustard.

Comment. Playwright Kat Sandler has a gift for the off-the-wall-story, whether it’s a shady liver-transplant; young couples who want to experiment with partner swapping for sex; or interns who would kill for a job, ideas pour out of Sandler and the results are plays that are loopy, quirky, definitely hilarious but with a serious thread through them. Mustard is the latest play from this vivid imagination. Sandler has an innate sense of how humour works. She knows that it comes from juxtaposing the incongruous resulting in a situation or line that is hilarious. Consider, the boon-goons are formidable looking fellows named Bug and Leslie who talk in the most formal manner.

Mustard is a funny play about holding on and letting go. And that goes for both the imaginary friend who wants to stay and the real people who needed him at one time but now have to stand on their own two feet and depend on each other. Towards the end it looks like the complications might get out of hand, but Sandler and her smart director know when to hold back. The result is a terrific production with double-over laughs and a quiet wisdom that sneaks up on you.

Presented by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Feb. 10, 2016.
Closes: March 13, 2016.
Cast: 6; 4 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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