Review: MISS

by Lynn on September 20, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Theatre 1479 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Ross Albert
Directed by David Lafontaine
Set by Adam Belanger
Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Fight director, Jeff Hanson
Cast: Wayne Burns
Trevor Hayes
Nola Martin

A new theatre company is always cause for celebration. Unit 102 Actors Company and the Spadina Avenue Gang have joined forces to share a performance space on Queen Street West called the Assembly Theatre. Their first collaboration is Michael Ross Albert’s new play, Miss.

Michael Ross Albert is coming off a huge hit with his terrific play Tough Jews, that played earlier in Kensington Market. Tough Jews was about a family of Jewish gangsters who committed various crimes in the Kensington Market area of Toronto during the time of Prohibition.

Referencing recent headlines Miss is equally as explosive. Laura is a teacher who has just returned to her classroom after being absent because of recent traumatic events involving two of her teenage male students. Laura has come to plead the case of Tyler, one of the two students in the fight. She is engaged to Gil but has not wished to see him for various reasons. Gil comes to her classroom to fight for their relationship. It’s clear all is not right there. They are joined by Tyler and the tension ramps up dangerously. Michael Ross Albert has certainly created a story with compelling possibilities. The details of what has happened and why are revealed nicely. I just wish the play and production were better.

While his characters are three dimensional with their various issues, their flaws make ones eyebrows knit and set off alarm bells. Perhaps the characters are too close to each other to have seen them. Laura was eager to get pregnant and perhaps looked forward to that with Gil. They obviously loved each other since they were engaged to be married quite soon. But when we meet Gill his neediness for Laura to love him and his desperation to please her suggests a predator rather than a lover. She tells him to leave her alone and leave the class room. He does, but comes back saying he promised himself he would never leave her in distress. So again, we are looking at a character professing love, but only on his terms. Creepy.

Laura and Gil are fixated on him being ‘much’ older than she is. When we lean he is 10 years older I went, “Huh? Only 10 years difference?” This seems hardly a point of concern. Perhaps this is another flaw Michael Ross Albert wants to inject into the narrative. I think it weakens his characters.

Tyler is the most interesting character of the three. He’s a 15 year old boy in a private school who comes from privilege. He is confident, operates from a point of entitlement, is bold and arrogant in the face of authority and doesn’t seem to be afraid of anyone. But he’s damaged by lack of love. His mother is absent and his father (who seems to be the ‘main’ parent) travels—he’s a highly regarded biogenesist. As his teacher Laura seems to be the one who talks to him as an adult, who gives him consideration, who cares about him. We lean soon enough how that attention has manifested itself.

It’s interesting to see where the title comes from. Tyler refers to her as “Miss” when he’s in the classroom with her and Gil. But later when they are alone he still uses that term, even though we know their relationship isn’t formal, so the reference seems false.

Director David Lafontaine and his creative team (Adam Belanger’s detailed classroom set with a clock running in real time; Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s costumes—preppy for Tyler, stylish for Laura, and grunge for Gil) have created the world of this classroom.

But while this is the world of the play, it doesn’t ring true in a fundamental aspect. At every turn when Gil comes into the class he closes the door and Laura says nothing. When Tyler comes in, not realizing Gil is there, he closes the door, and Laura says nothing. In the real world of education, with stories of entrapment, that door can’t be closed. I can appreciate Lafontaine wants to heighten tension by closing the door, it just doesn’t ring true. Later there is a medical emergency and Laura chastises Gil for not calling an ambulance. But neither does she and the situation demands it! That she doesn’t weakens the play.

Trevor Hayes as Gil creates a deceptively insecure, needy character. He has disarming charm. He cares for Laura and perhaps we can see her attraction, another person to care for. Hayes slowly reveals a deeper, darker side to Gil that keeps one wary.

Wayne Burns as Tyler is boyish with attitude. He’s articulate, savvy, needy and one fluctuates between caring about him and dismissing him as another spoiled kid.

Nola Martin gives Laura a sense of propriety and formality as a teacher in that school. We sense her distress when she’s in that room and learn why. But Martin can do with half of her idiosyncrasies in her performance—the nervous throat clearing, the twitchy smiles, etc. and still be effective.

The fight scene created by Jeff Hanson is terrific. Perhaps another pass at Miss by Michael Ross Albert is in order to tighten it and make it truly frightening without the eye-brow knitting concerns.

NOTE: I’m always glad of another theatre company that wants to do theatre. I suggest for your next show you add the name of the theatre and the address to the front of your program.

Presented by 102 Actors Company and the Spadina Avenue Gang

Began: Sept. 14, 2017.
Closes: Oct. 1, 2017.
Running Time: 75 minutes.

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