by Lynn on February 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer



At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Kat Sandler

Set by Nick Blais

Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Sound by Verne Good

Cast: Sébastien Heins

Jeff Lillico

Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Karen Robinson

Richard Zeppieri

A well intentioned mess of a play and production that doesn’t know if it wants to be a glib TV situation comedy referencing a serious crime, or a serious drama that then gets bogged down in laughs when notoriety and the movies come calling.

 The Story. Lila (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) is a black ex-cop who shot a young black man twice in the line of duty. The incident, trial and fall out made her leave the force and move in with her mother Karen (Karen Robinson). Tim (Jeff Lillico) is a white playwright who wrote a play about the shooting to ‘start a conversation.’ He never consulted Lila but has now shown up at her mother’s to warn her that Jackie, (Sébastien Heins)  a hot celebrity cast to star in the resultant movie is coming to talk to her about it.

 The Production.  Nick Blais has designed a neat, cheerful, well appointed house where Karen and Lila live. There are plants, family pictures, throw-blankets on the couch and comfy furniture. People live there.

Director Kat Sandler uses serious orchestral music at the top of the production to put us in the mood that this is a television show and not really a play.

Karen Robinson as Karen is a motherly, thoughtful woman who uses her psychologist smarts to deal with and understand her unhappy daughter, Lila. Lila is still reliving the events when she shot a young black man who she pulled over when he was driving his car. The fall out from the incident is that Lila has no friends or a job or a place in her former world. Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah is quite moving as Lila, stuck in her misery, directionless, angry and unable to find help.  Director Kat Sandler has established the prickly but loving relationship between these two women. The shooting incident is at the centre of their lives.

When Tim (Jeff Lillico) arrives bringing a present Karen is not pleased. His presence is a painful reminder of what happened. That both women don’t seem to know Tim wrote a play about the incident is surprising; that he never consulted them at all on its creation is also surprising. Lillico plays Tim as a twitchy, awkward man who is uncomfortable when challenged, because that’s the way director Kat Sandler has directed him to act.  The conversation between Tim, Karen and Lila is less about viable characters talking and listening to what is being said, than it is talking heads shooting out barbs, zingers, one-liners and glib jokes like reflexive ping-pong. It has the audience raucously laughing and I wonder where the central point of the play went with all that jollity.  And for all of Act I I wonder why Tim is there at all. It seems he is there to warn mother and daughter that Jackie, a notable Disney celebrity  is coming to talk to Lila about the movie.

In Act II Jackie shows up with his body-guard Tony (Richard Zeppieri). The banter is still light initially but this time a seriousness seeps into the conversation. Jackie is played by Sébastien Heins with the lightest, most charming touch. He knows the power of a smile and a food basket. Heins plays up Jackie’s frivolous persona but suggests a deeper thinker. The problem is that when Jackie acts out parts of Tim’s play Jackie hasn’t got a glimmer of a clue of how to play the character. Again, director Kat Sandler has Heins overplay the part. Is this to show how Hollywood always distorts serious stories in order to make a buck with popular but lousy casting? Really? Didn’t we already know that?

What is obvious in this transition from Tim’s play to his Hollywood break is that Tim has sold out his opus. Instead of a black woman being at its centre it’s now a biracial man. The title is changed because the Hollywood producers wanted it. Other aspects of the story have been changed—it seems that this is an action movie now and not an examination of racial tension in the world of the police and the black community. Jeff Lillico now plays Tim with more gravitas and confidence at inside information he has at the expense of others.

There are also so many plot twists and revelations from so many characters in Act II that the shape of the play now seems as twisted as a New York pretzel. While Richard Zeppieri is very funny and laid-back as Tony, that character’s inclusion is filler for only one reason (which I can’t divulge). My eyebrows are knitting.

 Comment. Playwright-director Kat Sandler says in her program note that she was intrigued by the 2013 newspaper stores about how the police shot a teenage boy. And she began “thinking about the effect those written pieces might have on those who knew him, and on different communities in Toronto….I wanted to write about the police system, about the ramifications of a split-second and about how the cops, the victims and their families were being represented. But I didn’t know how.” Yup that’s clear.

In her program note, Sandler continues pondering all manner of serious questions about mixing truth with fiction; of responsibility in telling a story outside her realm of experience; and should she do it. I so wish all this thoughtfulness went into her play and production. Sandler gives in to her natural predilection for the glib zinger rather than a thoughtful, deeper examination of the issues she says she wants to explore.

Act I is loaded with the quick quips, zingers, laughs that don’t come from situation but just from a barrage of cleverness. No one is listening in this badinage! This does such damage to the character of Tim, for example, who wants to be taken seriously that by the time the more serious Act II arrives the damage to Tim’s character is almost too much to overcome. Lost in all this is the actual shooting incident and trial and its effects on everybody. Lost is any sense of having a conversation about race, police targeting, or responsibility. Lost is the play Sandler says she wanted to write.

And can we please, please put a moratorium on a playwright feeling that only she/he can direct their own work? PLEASE! If the playwright and director are the same person who will tell the playwright to cut 50% of the jokes that serve no purpose but to bog down the story? Who will tell the director to pay attention to building relationships and make it seem as if there are real characters on stage who actually listen to each other rather than talking heads reacting reflexively without thought.

Produced by Factory Theatre

 Opened: Feb. 1, 2018.

Closes: Feb 24, 2018 (held over)

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rick February 18, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Lynn, thank you for an honest review of BANG BANG. After reading numerous positive reviews it really was life-affirming to read your review. The play was a mess, as you said, way too many unfunny jokes, and a wacky sense of confusion while watching the first act: Is the play a TV sitcom or a real drama with developed characters? My friend and I walked out at the end of the first act, confused and frowning. And the constant use of the work fu-k . . . well, cheapened the play.
The actors did all they could. Hat’s off to them, playing their roles and acting out their lines in a play where TV jokes and drama divide like oil and water.


2 Jenna March 3, 2018 at 12:51 am

I usually don’t agree with Lynn, but I found this play to be dreadful (and honestly offensive). Kat Sandler never seems to write character or people – just machine guns that rattle off unfeeling dialogue. It is frustrating to see her be so indulged constantly as a playwright. I’m so tired of her work.