In The Commandment (playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival), God’s unhappiest prophet (Phil Rickaby) breaks into Open Mic Night to explain how he got into this situation, and bequeath unto us the latest and greatest word of the Lord. The result is somewhere along the Adams-Gaiman-Gorey spectrum, exploring what it even means to be a prophet in the modern era — and the unique duties it imposes upon an atheist.
On the one hand, this show serves up some tasty ideas: the most conceptual parts – dealing with the nature of god and why he would choose an atheist to deliver his word – are very promising, and Rickaby effortlessly carries the audience through this side of the exposition. There’s a whole universe worth mining here.
But when the story veered towards the prophet’s own life and circumstances – some of them inspired by Rickaby’s own experiences- I often got itchy. It’s appalling to admit this given the personal character of the show, but there were points, especially around the climax, where, as a result of my own personal experiences, I found it difficult to engage with the material.
It felt an awful lot like a friend having a chaotic emotional moment, and my instinct is to let them get it out, but also not internalize it. (“Wow, buddy, that sounds terrible. I’m so sorry you had to do that. Brutal.”) Once that instinct kicked in, I started peeling away from the material, breaking the personal connection at a point in the show where it was clearly meant to be peaking.
As promised by the title, the show does end with Rickaby sharing the new commandment, and you’ll need to read it using the tools he’s laid on the table — so pay attention.
One of the show’s most memorable components deals with the dudes we sometimes see on street corners hollering about prophecy: how you might fall into that life, and how there might be a spark of something approaching divinity (by whatever definition) behind it. It’s a rhetorical style Rickaby sometimes imitates here, as if daring the audience to write him off as just another Yonge-Dundas pamphleteer.
If I had known this show was going to be as personal and unflinching, I wouldn’t have picked it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t: reader feedback on this show has been consistently positive, and there’s a lot to explore. But don’t put down your money expecting the usual atheist-out-of-water story: you’re going to some deep, dark places, accompanied by perhaps the only person qualified to guide you through them.
- The Commandment plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; not recommended for children.
- This venue is barrier-free. Patrons who use wheelchairs or who cannot climb stairs are seated in the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Sunday July 7th, 2:00 pm
- Tuesday July 9th, 5:15 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 10:15 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 1:00 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 6:00 pm
Photo of Phil Rickaby by Phil Rickaby.