by Lynn on October 10, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Zoomerhall? Zoomer Live Theatre? 70 Jefferson Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Kat Sandler
Sound by Sam Sholdice
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Cast: Nigel Downer
Rachel Jones
Kat Letwin
Michael Musi
Alon Nashman
Maria Vacratsis

A creation from the gifted Kat Sandler that is confusing as to what it actually is? A TV show that wants to be a play? A play that wants to be a TV show? Both?

The Story. We are in a TV studio for the live taping of Marty O’Malley’s final show as host of the talk show, The Early Late Show. He has been the suave host for 22 years and now he’s been pushed aside for a younger, hipper, new host, edgy comedienne, Sarah Goldberg. Sarah is introduced during the show and Marty and Sarah spend the rest of the show, sort of co-hosting.

Marty and Sarah banter, lob barbs and during the live show Sarah let’s a bombshell of a bit of news drop. The rest of the program is spent with Alanna the floor director, Davey the intern and the on stage hosts in damage control mode and trying to control the guests who get more and more out of control.

The Production. As we fill in to the playing area a young woman sits behind the host’s desk, greeting us. We learn later she is Sarah Goldberg. We are in an actual TV studio with the audience on either side of the playing area. TV cameras and their operators are to my left. To my far right is the desk behind which is a swivel chair on which Sarah sits. To the right of the desk are two very comfy seats for the guests. There are video screens across the way above that section of audience, I’m sure behind me and above the desk so that we can all see the action, especially in close-up.

Alanna and Davey enter to organize things before the actual live show begins. This being the only live show they’ve done—it’s usually taped–emotions are high. Alanna barks to Davey to bring her a coffee. He asks what kind with what added. She tells him vaguely and he rushes off to get it and brings back a coffee not to her liking. This gag goes on with him rushing off to correct the coffee order and coming back again with the wrong kind. Very funny. Pure Kat Sandler.

Marty O’Malley rushes on from makeup with his shirt and jacket collar protected by paper towelling. He looks fit, tanned and dapper in his suit and polished shoes. He warms up the crowd with his easy chat. There are bits dropped about this being his last show. He’s emotional. We sense he’s been pushed out.

When the ‘show’ starts proper Marty introduces Sarah as the new host, he says she is a woman who started on the show bringing him coffee. There is a close-up of Sarah’s face, tight smile, obviously hurt by the remark. She spars back. Sarah is a noted comedienne who takes no prisoners and that includes Marty, her former boss and mentor. The banter is lively. Then Sarah says something that is shocking.

In the commercial break that follows immediately Alanna goes into full warrior-woman mode and demands that damage control begin with her new host. A guest, Kevin Lee Hicks, comes on to add to the electricity in the air. He is dressed as a sassy older woman. The hosts are told not to mention something in Hicks’ past. Naturally it’s mentioned. Matters degenerate from there.

Because the audience’s attention is focused on the ‘live TV show” going on (to my right), perhaps not noticed (and should be) is Alanna the floor director (to my left), reacting with a definitely escalating sense of emotion to all the mayhem on stage. Alanna’s reactions add another layer to a rather one-sided situation in the TV show.

Kat Sandler’s direction of her actors, including, I assume the camera angles and close-ups, keeps the pace fast and sometimes furious. Every single actor in this production is terrific. Alon Nashman gives Marty O’Malley an elder-statesman distinction. He’s personable, charming, knows how to put on the emotion and work the audience. He also shows a sexist attitude to women. Kat Letwin plays Sarah Goldberg as an edgy, take-no-prisoners-comedienne. She has the energy of the young woman ready to take her best shot. As Alanna, the volatile floor director, Maria Vacratsis is fierce, focused and cutting. Just giving Davey her coffee order is nuanced and hilarious. Michael Musi plays Davey as a nervous, twitchy, sweet man who tries to do right and isn’t very successful. Nigel Downer as Kevin Lee Hicks is a wonderfully understated comedic actor. I’ve seen him do improve. He’s brilliant. He’s terrific here as well. And Rachel Jones does a lovely melt-down as Vivien Lawrence, Marty’s movie star wife who has taken too many anti-depressants along with good scotch to keep things on an even keel.

Comment. Playwright Kat Sandler has proven herself to be a funny, provocative, perceptive writer. She creates humour from her characters, their relationships, attitudes, from situations and from her loopy sense of what’s funny. Her writing is clean, spare and lethal in the humour department—as can be seen in such Sandler works as >Mustard, Liver and The Retreat. She wrote Late Night as part of the Fringe 24 hour playwriting contest, which she won. It has her trade-mark sharp, funny jabs; wild situations; and intriguing characters.

One comes to a Sandler play with high expectations. So I have to ask, what is this? What exactly is Late Night? Is it a play wanting to be a send-up of a TV show that melts down, and an American TV show at that? Why bother since we have seen plenty of these TV talk shows that inadvertently melt down all on their own and don’t need to be sent up?

Is it a TV show wanting to be a play? If so it’s a stretch that doesn’t work. Kat Sandler has peppered her play with all manner of hot button topics such as ageism, sexism, misogyny, infidelity and anti-gay banter without really fleshing out these comments more than just offhanded references. Kat Sandler has done better work elsewhere. Is Late Night trying to blur the lines between TV and theatre? The only place blurry lines are useful is in an optometrist’s office and they can fix it.

The involvement of Moses Znaimer, head of Zoomermedia in this effort, suggests he wants to combine some TV-theatre presence in an endeavour called “ZoomerLive!” of which Late Night is its inaugural production. If this is the best they can do, then it’s an experiment that needs more thinking.

How about a proper program for the audience so they can know the ‘players’ and their credits. (The press release is helpful but the whole audience doesn’t get them). How about some clarity on where the event actually takes place. The ticket we were expected to print lists the address as 64 Jefferson Ave. in Zoomerhall as the venue but when I went there it was shut tight and dark, with no reference to Zoomerhall. Most of the whole Zoomer complex was dark. Again, the press release listed the correct address of 70 Jefferson Ave. as the venue, but that address also applies to Zoomer Radio which was closed and dark. Fortunately I saw a woman exiting a door and asked where Zoomerhall was and she pointed to the dark door from which she exited. There was no signage of the show Late Night outside the complex and no proper lighting showing us the door to the venue. Once inside the building the small lobby was full of signs for the mock TV show, The Early Late Show with Marty O’Malley. When I mentioned this lack of clarity to the greeters to the building they tried to excuse the lapse by saying that this was the first time that Zoomer was doing this kind of show. I’ve seen better signage and lighting from novices doing theatre, in holes in the wall venues down dark alleys, than this conglomerate could muster.

Produced by Zoomermedia and Brouhaha

Opened: Oct. 7, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 23, 2016.
Cast: 6: 3 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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