by Lynn on March 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Aki Studio. A Pencil Kit Productions production presented by Nightwood Theatre with support from Aluna Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until March 19.

Note: I first reviewed this show in Oct. 2022 when it was part of the RUTAS FESTIVAL, Produced by Aluna Theatre. Now it’s been picked up for another run by Nightwood Theatre, Toronto’s only Feminist Theatre. It’s fitting that the play opened on International Women’s Day.

The production has been tweaked by creator/performer Claren Grosz so I repeat the original review with my own tweaking.

Created and performed by Claren Grosz

Co-directed by Will Dao and Claren Grosz

Projection designer, Claren Grosz

Projectionists/collaborators: Jesse Wabegijig

Elysse Waugh

Stephanie Zeit

Set and lighting by Echo Zhou

Composer, Christopher-Elizabeth

Contributing artist, Emily Jung

In I Love the Smell of Gasoline, theatre artist Claren Grosz has written a bristling one-person show, bursting with passion, information and concern about the world and the environment. The little blurb in the program of the previous production just scratches the surface of what she covers:

“ In I Love the Smell of Gasoline, Claren attempts to reconcile her Alberta oil-industry roots with the current environmental emergency. The project was born of a frustration with divisive Canadian politics, rampant hypocrisy, and a lack of team spirit when facing impending doom. It unpacks some of the forces that drive global warming and Western alienation in a person account of what it is to live in a modern, capitalist environment, be a self-serving organism, and also care about the earth and fellow creature kind.”

In this present incarnation of the production Claren Grosz writes: “This is my effort to hold contradicting truths at the same time. Or at least, if not at the same time, hold them very close together. Hold them up to the light. Turn them over.”

Claren Grosz’s production is complex and tech-heavy with three projectionists/collaborators working seamlessly to project images, formulae, models, miniature figurines frequently at the same time. It can appear messy. But there also is a sense of urgency to the telling. Claren Grosz’s voice is quiet, resounding and clear.

She impishly says that many people have told her that there are too many numbers in her show. Claren Grosz explains that she is a math tutor. Numbers are in her fingers. She’s not going to cut down on the numbers if they prove a point.

I Love the Smell of Gasoline references geology, history, anthropology, prehistoric history, the environment, her hometown of Calgary, the gas and oil industry and how her family has deep roots in it, and she brings a perspective that acknowledges many different points of view. This is not a polemic. She sees many sides to the story and she introduces them.

She is particularly close to her family, especially her father who was a surveyor until he retired. At one point she says that he became seriously ill with cancer and needed an operation but that was cancelled because of the pandemic. One hopes he’s ok. She doesn’t say and since Claren Grosz is such a compelling performer, who so engages the audience, they might feel so invested in her they want to know he’s ok. She just drops this segment of the show and it feels abrupt. The play is full of personal comments and conversations with her friends, the various partners she’s had, her family. It’s a deeply personal, passionate exploration of what is going on in our world.

I found this incarnation of the show more graceful in the telling, more detailed in the presentation. The set and lighting by Echo Zhou are effective in illuminating the world of petroleum products and the stars, which can’t be seen from Toronto and Calgary. That thought alone is telling in the context of her show. There is a wonderful creation by Jessica Hiemstra that is a cascade of white and black plastic bags falling out of an oil drum. Brilliant. There seems to be a new moment where it appears that the show has ended with a black out resulting in applause, only to have the lights pop up again, and Claren Grosz laughingly saying that the show isn’t over. It does end soon after that moment after she adds more thoughts. I think that glitch should be rethought so that the natural flow of the show is not disrupted.

Otherwise, Claren Grosz tells her important message with passion, charm, wit and vibrant imagination.

A Pencil Kit Productions production presented by Nightwood Theatre with support from Aluna Theatre:

Opened: March 8, 2023

Closes: March 19, 2023.

Running Time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

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