At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W.Toronto. Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Directed by Justin Tensen. Art Director, Reuben Looyenga. Costumes by Grace Cacciatore. Starring: Sean Connolly Affleck, Robbie Beniuk, Sasha Higgins, Earl Pastko, Lina Roessler, Jimi Shlag.
Plays until September 29.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz is a prolific, award winning, British playwright. She has written about 10 new plays, adaptations of Ibsen’s work and radio plays. She wrote Shoreditch Madonna in 2005. It’s the play of a young writer and it shows.
It’s about young, struggling artists in London’s East End. Hodge, Nick and Michael have been planning a showing for months. They entice Devlin, a once celebrated artist to join them. Devlin has fallen on hard times. He did jail time for having sex with a minor. The artists feel this show will serve both them and him.
There is Martha, a former lover of Devlin who has looked him up; Christina, a young woman in love with Charlie who has killed himself. Charlie was a friend of Devlin’s late daughter.
While Martha is the ‘Shoretditch Madonna the play does not centre on her. It centres in a way on Devlin since he seems to be common to all the characters. And yet even his involvement with all these folks does not ground the play or present a clear idea of what the play is about—people searching for love in all the wrong places? People searching for fulfillment in their work, but with the wrong people? It is interesting to see the beginnings of a now established playwright.
Shoreditch Madonna is being produced at the funky hole-in-the-wall theatre called Storefront Theatre at 955 Bloor St. W. I love the rough and readiness of the place. It’s small—about four rows of seats and can seat about 50 people. The creative folks behind the production seem to be doing it as a vanity project. In his directorial debut, Justin Tensen has no biography in the program for some bizarre reason. A Google search reveals that he’s a tv and film actor. He is also producing this show.
Reuben Looyenga is listed as the Art Director. Now in film I have a vague idea of what a Art Director does. But in the theatre, there is no such animal. There is a set designer. Is that what is meant? Looyenga’s biography in the program says that he has degrees from various universities as a Visual Artist or as an Art Historian. There is no reference as a Set Designer and his odd set reveals someone without an idea, it seems, on of how to design one.
Many in the cast are television and film actors listing theatre experience in Los Angeles, London and New York. This production I think affords them an opportunity to do theatre playing parts for which they might not be cast.
Across the stage is a simple white curtain. Actors pull the curtain away to reveal other curtained areas along the sides of the playing area or upstage. There is a studio space downstage centre; a bedroom upstage centre; a living room stage right and up from that is a kitchen of sorts that’s rarely used. Sometimes there is another curtain around specific areas. Needless to say there is a lot of curtain pulling to either reveal the set or hide it. Sometimes there is an affect of characters dancing in shadow behind the curtain. All unnecessarily time consuming and fussy.
I get the impression that Director Justin Tensen is so busy directing the pulling and pushing of the stage/set curtains that he doesn’t seem to have had time to direct, or keep his eye on the lagging pace, or to help an actor who needs it. For example, as Hodge, Sean Connolly Affleck is a young actor who doesn’t know about projecting his voice even in such a small venue. He mumbles virtually everything without a thought that this is not simply quiet conversation. It’s conversation that has to carry to the back of the audience.
As Christina, Sasha Higgins plays her as an unvarying, unsmiling depressive. There has to be more variation than that. Earl Pastko has made a career of playing soft-spoken creeps. Here he plays Devlin, the sex-on-the-brain artist who has lost his way and yes, he’s a creep. He wants to sleep with any woman there is and he’s mainly successful.
As Martha, Lina Roessler is searching for a way out. Either it’s with Devlin or someone else. She is always on the lookout for a better life. It’s always dangerous when a person with good intentions slides backwards.
I mention the pace—often it’s glacial. In various scenes with Devlin and Martha there are pauses so long I am sure that one of them has ‘dried’ and forgotten his/her lines. But then usually she begins speaking again. The result is a show that is clumsy, awkward and endless.