It’s night on Spadina Avenue. Light, neon, traffic. You find the address. Walk down the stairs. Buy your ticket, go in. You’re in a large white room, circled by folding chairs, and in the middle of the floor, a bare mattress. Looks like the setting of a live sex show. And in a way, it is. The room isn’t that large, and whatever you see is up close and personal. Very.
Circle Jerk is really four separate plays, accompanied by a live orchestra. Each play is by a different playwright. Each one is funny as hell, not just because of the dialogue, but also because the works fiddle with nerve endings, and there’s a bit of hysterical laughter in our responses. The dark comedies are unrelated, but when presented together, one after the other, the offer a wider picture of a society in transition. They sets off echoes that follow you home.
The 4 Plays are:
Dust Peddling: Part II
Written by Scott Dermody, Directed by Joanne Williams. Performed by Scott Dermody and Lisa Hamalainen.
A man comes in, limbers up, strips off, and ties himself to a bed. A woman arrives, perhaps a whore, and the two engage in a ritual, rich in cascading language. The woman appears peevish, resentful, and there’s clearly tension as well as sensual touch. Things are not as they appear. Costume, make-up, disguise. Intimacy in reverse?
Sex and This
Written by Wesley J. Colford, directed by Jakob Ehman. Performed by Tiffany Deobald and Carys Lewis.
Two hip young women debate whether they’ll attend a party. Suddenly, one receives a phone call containing terrible news. We now live in a world where one can receive a call or text message at any moment, with no particular procedure or responsibility to deal with its effect. Instead, personal human tragedy becomes another pile-on of online speculation, soul-searching, and general silliness. Hilarious, disturbing, and anyone under 30 will see why this is so “now”.
Written and directed by Brandon Crone. Performed by Alexander Plouffe and G. Kyle Shields
A young professional arrives home in his suit and tie, all ramped up for an evening of drugs, sex, and bananas with his male lover. Their bed becomes a launching pad of very interesting events and deeply felt insights. Compelling, sexy, and not to be missed.
Written and directed by Justin Haigh. Performed by Allan Michael Brunet and Matt Pilipiak
A nuclear plant specialist develops a wide array of head problems, and his bosses force him to go for mandatory chats with a human resources therapist. What begins as a discussion of the unchanging menu in the plant’s cafeteria, namely only baked potatoes are served, turns into a wider and more dangerous view of variation and normality. If you’ve ever had any dealings with corporate human resources, this is all too real. The nightmare begins.
All the plays in Circle Jerk are well-written, but what I like is the way they are performed. The actors are very good. They’re relaxed and focused and this lets the audience feel comfortable, even if we’re in a room, a few feet from a mattress, watching people at their most intimate. We all get lost in the moment.
Individually, the plays entertain, but taken together, they’re kinetic, setting off a chain-reaction describing a world where we have no sense of stability. Collectively, the comedies describe an environment of instant communications, public confession, dissolving privacy, a no-man’s-land where urban dwellers begin to lose their sense of self, of community; locality and points of reference. Drowning in a sea of information, there’s no tangible solitude to process any of it. The young, especially, develop a sense of anxiety and “jumpiness”, as if they’re living in permanent earthquake zone, overreacting to each and every minor incident.
To me, Circle Jerk targets a young, street savvy audience, and should be seen by every student at the University of Toronto, Ryerson, George Brown. They’ll know this turf , this lingo, and these characters. I should mention, the 5 piece orchestra is great, and the music is gorgeous and wildly entertaining.
Although Circle Jerk is a collection of small, two-character plays, it took a tremendous amount of creative power, labour, and co-ordination to stage. It’s put on by three theatre companies: Soup Can Theatre, safeword, and Aim for the Tangent Theatre. Sadly, you probably won’t hear about Circle Jerk, or productions like this in the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, or the National Post. Mainstream media reports on what’s happening in the usual places, and rarely covers independently staged shows. So, if you’re lucky enough to hear about Circle Jerk, go see it, and tell your friends!
I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
Produced by: Soup Can Theatre, safeword, and Aim for the Tangent Theatre
lemonTree Studio, 196 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario