Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: (Toronto) The Heel vs. Screwjob

Leah Holder, Step Taylor
Get Ready to Rumble. 
Code White brings the A-game. 
by Lisa McKeown 

I wasn't sure what to expect as I entered the brightly lit second floor of the Gladstone Hotel. This is where the first act was to be performed, and the second, I was told rather apologetically, would be in a separate room. Rather than being put off, however, I was intrigued.  

And yet the room itself seemed unassuming. The venue seats no more than 20 people, and though it was only one-third full by the time I got there, it was packed by the end, creating a kind of cozy atmosphere. The set was minimal, set in an alcove with a long table, three smaller tables and some chairs and some minor props, but enough to suggest a quiet bar. 

The play, written by Step Taylor, is based on the infamous piece of WWE history known as the Montreal Screwjob - an underhanded reversal of a pre-determined wrestling match. But the story is about the behind the scenes of the stunt, the struggle and the consequences (and not necessarily in that order). And, despite not being sure what to expect, it ended up being a truly delightful experience.

Both acts are two-handers. The first act starts off a bit slow, and I found it a bit difficult to care too much about the characters until the end, despite the punchy acting on the part of Matthew Gouveia and Mandy E. Maclean. It might have been in part due to the staging, which felt more formal in the first half, though the programme notes that the first act was written to augment the second act, which is where the real heart of the story lies. 

And the significance of the first half does indeed become clear in the second, which is set in the closed-off intimacy of a reading room off the hallway, providing the backdrop of a hotel room 17 years earlier. The lighting and sound effects were that of the Gladstone, and the background slosh of cars racing by outside on Queen Street helped to create exactly the right mood. The last half is definitely tighter in terms of the writing, but what really allowed the play to take off was the chemistry between the two actors which carried the show to a powerful finale. The couple goes through an intense arc of love, connection, hope and intense regret, and that kind of energy between the two actors - Step Taylor and Leah Holder - was definitely necessary for the piece, and the two pulled it off spectacularly. I trekked out in the the frigid night afterwards, with the warm tingly feeling of having witnessed a really powerful story. 

Feb 6 -15

Running time: 2 hours 

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