Review: Tempo (Tavistock Arts)

Tavistock Art’s Tempo is a show full of jaw-dropping performances not to be missed at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre

Tempo

Ibsen didn’t write Tempo (presently at the Storefront Theatre), so it was necessary for Michael Batistick to do the heavy lifting. And it’s a damn good thing he has.

Tempo is one of those marvellous plays that sneaks up behind you. On the surface, we’re watching a comic tragedy unfold: Jim, an unlovely drug rep, swings wildly from scene to scene, mood to mood, watching his life unravel before his eyes. And the train-wrecky aspect of this show is what draws an audience in.

 

We don’t feel pity for this guy. He’s quite possibly the most repulsive and atrocious manifestation of psychopathic greed this side of Glengarry Glen Ross, tolerable only because he’s so bad at exploiting others. This is a man so pathetic that he can’t even succeed at being a shitty human being.

Yet he’s the fulcrum over which this entire show flips. And flip, it does.

As Batistick’s odious lead sinks further and further into a cesspool of his own creation, the writer starts setting up – and knocking down – some appropriately hard targets. Examining the state of the American Dream from the perspective of a washed-up capitalist is nothing new, but this script is so heavily infused with human elements that the approach has a distinctive new-car smell to it.

This process is assisted considerably by excellent performances, especially by the women in the company. Jennifer Neales navigates a contradictory and challenging part with remarkable ease and comfort; Janice Yang comes into her own in a climactic scene of tremendous badassery which cannot be described without spoiling the entire show; and Lara Kelly, as Jim’s long-suffering wife, moves beyond the stereotypes to deliver something very, very real.

I’d also like to make sure and mention Allan Cooke, who has a wonderful (if brief!) turn as an overworked pharmacist, and John Ng, whose slightly-unsettled physician provides the first indication that we’re going to be watching something much more important than the usual meltdown-pornography.

But the best player in the show – and it’s a damn good thing, too – is Ronan P. Byrne. His Jim appears in every scene but one, and his range as a performer is on clear display. The character as written is torn between so many priorities, shames, regrets and resentments (even his own four-year-old son is the object of legitimate envy) that a lesser actor could quickly drown in all the emotional flinging and contradictions this creation implies – but Byrne nails it. Even when Jim is at his most over-the-top and insane, he never fully loses his human side; even when Jim is at his most vulnerable and sack-of-crap pathetic, he never loses his spine. That’s talent.

And so to the other Jim in the company – Jim Ivers, director of this production and Artistic Director of Tavistock Arts. The fingerprints of a talented director are all over Tempo, as they were on their recent Fringe show. Tavistock seems to have a unique gift for attracting talented actors, then squeezing and pressing them into delivering deliciously gutsy and blood-ridden performances. While the end result isn’t entirely up to him – those actors are working damn hard! – his involvement and obvious talent are a large part of what drives this show’s success.

And I was worried about this show. Eight characters in a storefront space? A lesser company would have been overwhelmed and collapsed under the weight of their own ambition.

But this show worked.

This show stormed.

There’s something magical going on at the Storefront. Don’t miss it.

Details

  • Tempo plays through October 12th at the Storefront Theatre. (955 Bloor West, near Ossington.)
  • Tickets are $20. $15 for arts workers.
  • Tickets may be purchased online, or in-person at the box office. (Cash only.)
  • Performances run nightly, Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00 PM.
  • Be advised that this play involves simulated gunshots and sexual content.

Photograph of Ronan P. Byrne provided by the company.

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