by Lynn on October 22, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie

Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia

Set and costumes by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Cast: Shannon Currie

Matthew Gin

Wow! Writing that is bracing, perceptive, cutting and puts you right in the world of the two beleaguered characters in a production that is just as hard hitting and ultimately hopeful.

NOTE: A note of explanation first. There is no statute of limitations on a play title so there have actually been two plays entitled The Jungle in the last few years. So to clarify, two years ago in London I saw a play called The Jungle by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson about the refugee camp in Calais in which the action is set in a refugee run restaurant in the middle of the camp.

The production of The Jungle at the Tarragon Extra Space that I’m reviewing is not that play. For our purposes The Jungle is written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie.

The Story. The Jungle by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie is about surviving in the brutal jungle of capitalism, how the wealthy control most of the money and the rest have to work at least two jobs just to break even.

Veronyka is an immigrant from Moldavia to Canada who works in a factory by day and a waitress by night. She budgets each nickel and sends money home to Moldavia so her brother can go to university and she can help support her parents.

Jack is a Chinese Canadian born here in Canada who drives his father’s cab to make a living.  He lives at home. He gives Veronyka a lift in his cab a few times and they form a relationship and decide to get married. Veronyka spends more efforts budgeting not only the money of the couple but also the time they need to spend together. Both Veronyka and Jack are working so hard they rarely have time to be together. Tensions increase between them because of money and family problems.  Jack volunteers for one of the parties during an election and sees how people get ahead. In her own way Veronyka also sees how the jungle works. She apprentices herself to a butcher to learn a trade. The relationship there might be less than formally business-like. It’s the jungle, folks.

The Production and comment. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a very efficient set that spreads across the stage and represents various locations in the story: a living room, a kitchen, a butcher store etc. A tiled wall spreads across the whole back of the stage on which formula are written in various coloured pens that give the audience lessons in Marxist economics as well as more modern ideology on economics. Both Shannon Currie and Matthew Gin write the formula and explain about money, consumerism that explains how the rich make money from the poor and how profit is calculated in a factory.

You would think that that esoteric lesson in economics would make the play and production a bit dry.  But it’s done with such confidence and assurance that we are swept along, held captive.  However it’s the human story of how Veronyka and Jack found and love each other, how they cope with getting out of debt and their sense of being trapped in what looks like a hopeless situation that just draws you in.

The acting of Shannon Currie as Veronyka and Matthew Gin as Jack is so true and compelling we feel everything they do. These two actors have chemistry. The loving relationship between the two characters tingles. When Currie plays Veronyka her Moldavian accent is impeccable. When she is giving part of the lesson in economics it’s in her own Canadian accent.

Guillermo Verdecchia has done a masterful job of directing the play with sensitivity and vision that is just stunning. For example the simple image of Gin tipping a vial of pills onto the floor speaks volumes about what that scene means.

As Veronyka and Jack feel constricted in their world, I found myself getting breathless too and closed in. I had to think “don’t worry Slotkin, you get to go home after this and Veronyka and Jack are still trapped in that world.”

A few times during the production Veronyka brings out meat that she bought that she says is cheap and at the end she cuts up a chicken as part of her butchering preparation. She actually removes the backbone with effort and finesse. This is done for every show. That is one of the ironies for this play and production—a play about poverty, economics and the human cost of living in that system has a plump chicken which I liken to a symbol of how humanity turns the play on its ear. I love that metaphor—a chicken in every pot as a symbol of prosperity; the chicken is used only in one scene and all she does is cut out the backbone. That simple scene also speaks volumes about food, prosperity and doing better.

But then in spite of all the statistics reflecting a system that is so one sided something startling happens that tips the play on its ear. Humanity kicks in. And how that happens is one of the many reasons why The Jungle is one of the best plays and productions to hit this city in a long time—and at the moment we are blessed with a lot of good theatre.

 Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie have written a play that is sharp, smart and perceptive. That juxtaposition of the intellectual formula of how the rich have all the power over consumerism and the human story of two people coping is so fascinating and engaging. It’s a brave, bold play. See it. See it. Ditto.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Began: Oct. 1, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Harold Povilaitis October 22, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Lynn, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with your conclusion that “The Jungle is one of the best plays and productions to hit this city in a long time” !!!

Rarely have I been SO captivated by two characters (and performances) in a play. You get SO caught up in the situations faced by Veronyka and Jack, that the play grips you COMPLETELY, right from the opening to the final scene.

BRAVO to the playwrights, the amazing cast, and the whole production team !!!