by Lynn on October 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Redwood Theatre, 1300 Gerrard Street East, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Cory Terry and Elan Wolf Farbiarz

Directed by Benjamin Blais

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Cast: Anurag Choudhury

Caitlin Driscoll

Daniel Pagett

Alas, I’ll never get that hour and a half back after seeing this disappointing show.

The Story. Will is depressed. His marriage has failed and he can’t sell his landscape paintings. His enthusiastic friend Mark, also an artist, tries to help him out by treating Will to a trip to Toronto from England where they both live. (No Mark doesn’t have a lot of money, he has a lot of points so can afford the airfare that way). What Mark doesn’t tell Will is that Banksy, that world famous anonymous street-painter-graffiti-artist, will be in Toronto too and Mark hopes to meet him and perhaps sell some of his paintings. As luck would have it Will is mistaken for Banksy. A persistent reporter from some sleazy TV show pursues Will for an interview thinking he’s Banksy.

 The Production.  Becoming Banksy is a limp comedy. Director Benjamin Blais does his best to cover this weakness with his usual energetic, even frantic style, staging his actors to fill the space with large performances and fast paced action. At times it’s farcical and slapstick. Actors change characters quickly in front of us sometimes by putting on a hat or a mustache held in place on an upper lip by an elastic around the actor/actress’s head, or putting on a hat etc.

While his staging goes for the gusto, Blais also has some witty directorial touches. In one scene we are led to believe that projections of paintings are flashed on a brick wall. In fact all we see is a square of light illuminating the bricks. That’s funny, or perhaps I’m just trying to find something really funny in what is really a dreary attempt at humour. As there is not credit for a set designer, I will assume the person who ‘dressed’ the ‘lobby’ with paint cans, rollers, and a paint tin is Benjamin Blais. That is really clever and ties in with the show.

The cast of three: Anurag Choudhury as a mournful Will, Caitlin Driscoll as Mary among others and Daniel Pagett as Mark among others, work with great energy. At times they seem to have so much fun together, I felt like I was intruding, as if the audience is an afterthought.

Choudhury and Pagett give their lines in varying degrees of bellowing. Pagett plays various characters with slight variation. Perhaps because the writing by Cory Terry and Elan Wolf Farbiarz is so one-dimensional Pagett has little choice. He does employ an actor’s nervous ‘tick’, he claps his hands a lot. I am not sure if it’s because he has nothing to do with his hands and this helps, or he was directed to emphasize moments with that clap, or he is trying valiantly to get the lights to go on and off. You just want to tell him to stop with the clapping. Caitlin Driscoll as Mary among others is a refreshing joy here. Each character is distinct, with their own accent, idiosyncrasies and variation in the tone of voice. Driscoll has imagination, creativity and a keen sense of humour.

The Redwood Theatre is a beautiful new space on Gerrard St. East that while it’s large with character, is unforgiving in the acoustics department. The audience is on either side of the large playing area.  Voices don’t carry well and certainly not when an actor turns away from one section of the audience to face the other.

Comment. While Banksy is a mysterious character, his paintings depict serious social commentary. Becoming Banksy on the other hand is an irrelevance. It’s expecting a lot for the audience to sympathize and feel kindly to Will and Mark who don’t really seem to be serious about art (well Will loves landscapes) or have any weight as characters. And they are in a play using the name and reputation of an artist that people do take seriously.

Becoming Banksy is a Fringe show at best, and that’s being kind.

Opened: Sept. 28, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

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