Challenging Stuff at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille.
The first time I saw Offers of Home by Stephen Joffe (currently playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace), I was struck by its mundanity. The stories it explores are so earthy and realistic that the experience has a voyeuristic quality: the audience isn’t watching a play, they’re walking down a suburban street–and peering through the letterboxes as they go.
This expanded version–a longer script and a fully-mounted production–maintains that intimate feeling, while also sandpapering off some of the rougher edges. A better framing device, a grittier staging and some stronger character work all make for a great evening.
Offers tells three (three-and-a-half?) stories in which a home of some sort is rapidly disintegrating: a suburban couple running from their past, who find themselves forced to entertain an unwelcome visitor; a group of dropouts and punks on the verge of losing their crash pad; and a bus stop encounter between a realtor and a homeless guy. These stories are linked in obvious and subtle ways: through song, through movement, through clever use of set pieces, and through James Pettitt, who plays Leo–a sort of herald–as Raffi on meth.
As these homes crumble and disintegrate, Joffe ably raises the key question: where is home? Is home the physical space we inhabit, our relationship with our family (chosen or otherwise), our sense of self? And as director Lyf Stolte asks explicitly, if “home” is so liminal, what can we make of the homeless?
The play often feels jarring or challenging. Sometimes this is structural: there are a few speed-bumps where characters suddenly begin speaking like playwrights. But the point of this exercise, emphasized by the chain-smoking cast, is to reconsider how we view these people. Are we seeing them as they are, or as they wish to be perceived? Are they as they appear, or are we viewing them through a haze of drugs, of nostalgia, of a thousand and one other hallucinogens? This sophisticated approach knocks some of the harder edges off the script and invites the audience to explore its themes and messages on multiple levels, a most rewarding pursuit.
This also means that Offers is a deeply personal work. Do you sympathize with Alyx, who lashes out at her surroundings like a trapped cat; or with Brooke, who tries to hold the world on her shoulders? Do you believe the teacher, who proclaims his innocence; or his wife, who can no longer trust him? Your perspective on these minor dramas will radically affect how you perceive the larger ones–and that’s a damn hard trick for a playwright to pull off.
Within the cast, my guest and I were both drawn towards Pettitt’s Leo: initially affable and charismatic, Pettitt adds just enough menace and desperation to remind us that Leo’s story is, above all, tragic. I also enjoyed Sydney Kondruss’ Alyx, a smallish character who Kondruss deftly turns into a giant.
There are no easy answers in Offers, but I don’t think Joffee would have it any other way. We in the audience aren’t meant to receive this story; we’re meant to project, experience and witness ourselves within it. To find the adventure anything less than disquieting would be to miss the point–but the elegance and ease with which it unnerves us, shakes our assumptions and makes us reconsider our place in society and our self-image is where this piece really shines.
Please be advised that this show involves heavy and continuous use of herbal cigarettes.
- Offers of Home plays through July 28th at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Performances are nightly at 7:30, with 2:00 matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
- Tickets are $25. $20 for students, seniors and arts workers.
- Tickets can be purchased in person at the arts Box Office (16 Ryerson Ave.), online, or by telephone at 416-504-6729.
Poster design by Nina Chitty. Photograph of James Pettitt (Leo) by Anthony R. Taylor.