Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Impression review: Tomasso's Party at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Critic: Mark Rochford

Play at a glance: A stunted bedroom exchange between the restless, bath-robed Hugo (Simon Bracken), searching for the last word in a book title, and half-asleep Madeleine (Leah Doz) whose back faces the audience for the entire hour. The birthday party for Madeleine's boss looms, and the couple apparently have a lot to work out before they venture to the event. If Hugo decides to go.

First impressions: An attempted examination of relationship dynamics that throws some winning lines out there, yet gets mired in Hugo's incessant whining and grumbling. Madeleine makes much of her perceived lack of sex appeal, yet displays a comely figure and vocal vivaciousness, and any commentary implied by this disconnect fails to land. After Madeleine makes a rather significant admission, the play ends disappointingly with the two seemingly in much the same place as at the start.

Highlights: Leah Doz does admirable work making her character feel fully fleshed even though we never see her front, her voice conveying an endearing combination of self-deprecation and sensuality; she makes good use of her one free arm without resorting to overdone gesticulations. Hugo's recounting of an afternoon watching the work of an adult film star and the tipsy first meeting between the pair provide some welcome laughs.

The Nitpicks: Lewis works his sniveling nebbish as hard as he can, yet the script leaves him few options to make Hugo palatable or relatable. The askew string-hung window suggests a surrealistic quality that seems unsuitable for the bed-clothed antagonism on display.

Audience's instant reaction: Enthusiastic roars from a consistently amused group around me, yet reserved overall.

Critic's instant reaction: 2/4

Note from Nestruck: This review was written as part of a workshop on theatre criticism and time constraints. Participants were asked to file a review within one hour of seeing a show of their choice at Toronto's Next Stage festival.

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