Review: Ralph + Lina (Ahuri Theatre), Death Married My Daughter (Play It Again Productions), Business As Usual (ZOU Theatre Company)

Celebrating innovative works from emerging local companies, The Theatre Centre in Toronto presents this triple bill

The Toronto theatre scene is amazingly robust and diverse. From minimalist slice-of-life pieces to over-the-top theatrical spectacles, our city plays host to a dazzling array of productions hailing from every slice of the population.

The Independent Creators Cooperative is a new collaboration initiative (supported by Why Not Theatre and Theatre Smith Gilmour) that seeks to promote plays from three of Toronto’s emerging theatre companies.

The result is a collection of three eclectic shows, presented in succession that explore a wide gamut of thought-provoking subject matter – making for a truly memorable night of top-class theatre.

Ralph + Lina (Ahuri Theatre)

Ralph + Lina is the beautifully written tale about two Old World Italian lovers meeting and falling in love at the start of the Second World War. This is the story of your nonna and nonno: how they met, the struggles they endured, and the unwavering love they have for each other.

Spectacularly acted by Dan Watson and Christina Serra, the writing in this piece is witty and endearing, filled with many cute moments that are pure comedic gold. From finding the humour in sharing a meal with your spouse to taking aim at different elements of beloved Canadian culture, this feel-good play has a cinematic lure that’s reminiscent of the classic mid-20th century European comedies.

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The bond between the two lovers is never forced or synthetic. Rather, their love is able to develop organically. And perhaps that’s where the real strength of this play lies.

We aren’t repeatedly hit over the head with meaningless platitudes, and we aren’t forced to endure sappy poetic euphemisms for love. We are instead treated to a heartfelt performance by Watson and Serra, where affirmation of their characters’ love is derived from their non-verbal communication. Indeed, a passionate embrace or a subtle peck on the cheek is all that was needed to make this pairing believable.

In a world where true love is often so hard to come by, Ralph + Lina helps remind us of what true love ought to be: simple, honest and unwavering.

Go see this play. It will restore your faith in the world.

Death Married My Daughter (Play It Again Productions)

Returning after a successful extended 2013 run, including being selected as the Patron’s Pick and Best of Toronto Fringe 2013, Death Married My Daughter is an over-the-top bouffon comedy that parodies the nonsense that is our modern world.

In this production, we are introduced to the living corpses of two Shakespearean characters: Othello’s Desdemona (Danya Buonastella) and Hamlet’s Ophelia (Nina Gilmour). After a chronology of their deaths, the pair then move on to ridicule many unfair realities of today’s world including, sexism, patriotism, war and politics.

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The humour here is lewd, crude and unapologetic – taking no prisoners in its scathing criticisms. The daring duo tackle everything from incest to cannibalism, without batting an eyelash.

As with any bouffon comedy, absurdity is the name of the game.

For example, there’s one scene where the pair grill a set of baby dolls over a barbeque.

The social critiques are spot-on and excellently spoofed. However, there were some points that seemed to just drag on and become a little self-indulgent of the actors. More often than not, I thought to myself that just a tiny bit of editing would have made the pacing of this piece that much more sharp and poignant. I mean, after a certain amount of time, there’s really no point in continuing to portray sex acts on a doll once your critique has already been made.

That being said, Death Married My Daughter makes a wonderful addition to the lineup, with Buonastella and Gilmour sharing an onstage rapport that is a treat to watch.

Business As Usual (ZOU Theatre Company)

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I have long been a believer that if you ask your employees to tow the corporate line too closely, they’ll eventually use it to hang themselves.

Business As Usual follows the aftermath of a wave of ledge-jumper suicides in the high-pressure, take-no-prisoners world of corporate finance.

In this dark comedy, we are exposed to the seedy underbelly of workplace ladder-climbing: the backstabbing, the cocaine abuse, and the fake friendships the characters seem to develop with each other. It’s really quite a powerful and moving piece, reminding us that money and power aren’t all they’re cracked out to be.

The acting is simply wonderful. Viktor Lukawsi, Nicolas Di Gaetano and Adam Paolozza all give stellar performances, each perfectly channeling the machismo and self-importance that is often associated with being a power player.

Striking a good balance between the abusurd – a gorilla clad in business attire who is billeted as the next great thing for the company – and the tragic – the characters’ drug dependency, Business As Usual is a triumphant piece of modern theatre and one that I would gladly recommend to anybody who’s currently caught in the rat race of working a corporate 9 to 5 job.

Details:

Photos courtesy of their respective production companies

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