by Lynn on April 19, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Paula Wing

Directed by Stewart Arnott

Set and costumes by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Brian Bisson

Daniel Ellis

Jamie Robinson

Ordena Stephens-Thompson

Tal Shulman

Playwright Paula Wing explores boys and their fathers in her interesting play, Risky Phil. It poses some thought-provoking ideas.

The Story. Phil lives with his colourful Aunt Gigi, a hairdresser. His mother is dead and his father is absent and never talked of. Then one day all that changes.

The Production.  The multiple locations in the play are efficiently established by Rachel Forbes malleable set: Aunt Gigi’s hair salon is simple and colourful. a bench suggests a park or even a hockey change room. The costumes are typical garb for a young teen and casual wear for the adults.

Phil (Daniel Ellis) gives a lively, thoughtful performance of a kid living with a strong woman, his Aunt Gigi (Ordena Stephens-Thompson), as his surrogate mother—her sister is Phil’s late  mother. Phil and Aunt Gigi have an almost official contractual arrangement. He works in her hair-dressing salon in exchange for other privileges. Often Phil wants to massage that arrangement and negotiate amendments. Daniel Ellis as Phil has sweet charm, a confidence that comes from someone who is loved and the goofiness of a kid.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Aunt Gigi is feisty, firm and hiding some truths that Phil should know about. They are revealed soon enough. One of them is that Phil’s father Junior, (Jamie Robinson) shows up to the hair-dressing salon, posing as a customer in order to get in the door. He left Phil’s mother without a word and does not know that his wife is dead and that he has a son.

Gigi is furious with his abandonment of her sister. She’s furious that he seems to be as irresponsible as we always was. But Junior says he is a changed man. He’s in re-hab and as part of his treatment must make amends to the people he has hurt. One of them is his former wife. But Junior is told she’s dead. Jamie Robinson gives a dandy twitchy performance of a man not too steady in his life. He’s trying but boy is it hard to trust him.

Director Stewart Arnott keeps everything flowing at a brisk pace. The target audience is about grades four and five so the pace can’t drag. And some of the revelations certainly stirred up the kids. Recognition perhaps.

Comment. Risky Phil is a companion piece to Number One and Jamie also by Paula Wing. In Risky Phil Wing examines father-son relationships. There is another father and son in the play, David and his son Jamie. David had always dreamed of being a professional hockey player but squandered his chance. He now coaches little league hockey. He wants to go to Europe and try again but doesn’t tell his son Jamie who is crushed with the news.

Paula Wing is writing about the subject of absent fathers and their sons; irresponsible fathers and their dreams at the expense of their sons and all the other minute questions in those relationships. While Junior says he wants to come back into Phil’s life, Gigi is not sure because Junior is a bad father. But Phil says that a bad father is better than an absent father. What a tricky situation that is. One ponders if Junior will step up to the plate and be more responsible. Interesting question.

 Presented by Young People’s Theatre

 Opened: April 12, 2018.

Closed: April 27, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes, approx.

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