by Lynn on August 21, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, produced by Shifting Ground Collective, The Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement,  225 Sterling Rd. Unit 103, Toronto, Ont. Until Aug. 26, 2023.

Written by Adam Gwon

Directed by Steven Hao

Music Director, Jonah Nung

Set/Costume Design – Irene Ly

Lighting Design – Mathilda Kane

Sound Design – Alison Thomas-Hall

Cast: Randy Chang

Kevin Forster

Shannon Murtagh

Colette Richardson

An impressive debut of a new musical theatre company.

One is inundated with requests to review many and various new theatre companies. Some are composed of recent theatre school graduates. Some are ‘struggling artists’ who want to be seen and promoted but not necessarily eligible to be considered Actors’ Equity members. One wants to be supportive but there is so much other theatre around (‘professional’) that the new companies often fall by the wayside.

That would have been my take on Shifting Ground Collective if my colleague Glenn Sumi had not urged me to see their inaugural show, Ordinary Days. Glenn’s a smart man. I took his advice and saw the show. I’m glad I did.

Ordinary Days (2008) by Adam Gwon is set in New York City as four 20-30 something people try to find their way and each other. Warren (Kevin Forster) is an artist distributing flyers with pithy sayings for another more successful artist. Deb (Colette Richardson) has left her small town to go to New York City and is an anxious grad student doing a thesis on Virginia Woolf. She loses her notebook with notes on her thesis and Warren finds it. Jason (Randy Chang) is in love with Claire (Shannon Murtagh) and decides to move in with her to be closer to her. But they wrangle about space and the stuff that takes up space and how to get rid of the stuff.

The two couples do not seem to know each other, but still navigate that huge city of other people trying to find themselves and each other.

To make the production even more challenging, the four actors don’t know who they will play until show time when they flip a coin in front of the audience to see who plays whom. One actor calls heads and notes the character he/she will play the other actor then plays the other character. The actor flips the coin and a member of the audience sees if it’s heads or tails just to keep it all transparent. This means the women have to know both Claire and Deb’s part and the men have to know both Warren and Jason’s part.

Adam Gwon’s musical is almost all sung through and the lyrics are clever and dense about space, time, love, art, literature, the deception of a dot of paint close up and standing back and how that dot is either distinct or blended. When Warren sings about that, I thought he was looking at a painting by the pointillist George Seurat. In fact it was Monet. Perception is so malleable depending on where you are looking.

Irene Ly’s set is simple: four white trunks with colourful round stickers on them and a moveable set of stairs, also with the colourful round stickers on them. Her costumes are casual for all four characters.

Director Steven Hao negotiates the cast around the set in quick paces to illuminate the quick pace of New York City. They also move the four trunks around the set for each scene or location. Perhaps it tends to be a bit busy, but one forgives experimentation in this new venture.

The cast of four actor/singers are charming in their own way and committed to their characters and the show.

The show plays in the performance space of the Pia Bouman School for Ballet and Creative Movement. It’s a room more suitable for dance than musical theatre. While the singers were microphoned, I thought (probably for the first time in forever) that they could have been amplified a bit more to be heard in that room, and certainly over music director Jonah Nung’s robust playing. You work with what you get, and this cast did a herculean job of bringing this challenging work to life.

Ordinary Days is being given an impressive debut by Shifting Ground Collective. I look forward to seeing whatever they plan for the future.

Shifting Ground Collective presents:

Plays until Aug. 25, 2023.

Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)

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