Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Dazzled and Confused - After Wrestling - Play Review

After Wrestling - Factory Theatre Studio - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr, Directed by Bryce Hodgson 
Runs until Mar. 18th 2018

To be honest, I have a limited understanding of mental health issues and have been trying to learn and be more open minded about issues surrounding mental health. It's quite the daunting issue and subject  and After Wrestling, a new play by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr, delves into the messy lives of four different people slowly intwined by a suicide.

The play slowly reveals itself in tidbits, in quick succession of scenes that add to the confusing mystery, only to later explain why certain characters felt uneven or unbelievable at first. It may be part of the structure to mirror the thinking of its confused characters, who try to deal with their friend's suicide. The living friends try to grapple with their own reaction and and their own mental stability while trying to understand what happened to their friend. The confusion adds to the frustrating nature of the play (though seemingly intentional), but the terrific cast lends credibility to elements that seem at first uneven (but is sometimes later explained).

While the show first seemingly wants to focus on siblings Leah and Hogan, who are both in different depressive and angry states, we are also introduced to Hogan's best friend Gibby in ghost form (but hilariously and fascinatingly done) who committed suicide. Meanwhile, Jaggy, a cop who saves Hogan from a breakdown, ends up asking out recluse Leah. The plot points speed by in the quick scenes but it's the discovery of the characters and their mindset that propels the play, even if we don't truly understand all that makes them up, which the characters themselves, probably are trying to figure out too.

While Charlie Kerr co-wrote the play, his Hogan seems the most underwritten, but is to Kerr's acting credit that we feel his anger and his reactions. As frustrating and annoying as Hogan's sister Leah's character can be, Libby Osler infuses a trapped and confused soul in Leah's toxic decisions. Osler brings us along for the ride, despite Leah constantly pushing against it, and against Jaggy, who seems smitten with her for his own reasons.

Anthony Shim is mesmerizing as Gibby, who appears to Hogan as a radio jockey and has some fun with his interplay with Hogan's mindset. Shim gets to have the most fun with the dead Gibby, which then adds to the truly shocking nature of seeing still-alive Gibby in a flashback in the time before his suicide. Numb to the world on the drugs doctors have prescribed him, Shim makes the days leading up to the suicide feel real and lived in, and reveals a whole other story behind Gibby's ghost we only get a faint whiff at that Leah and Hogan had been alluding to.

Jaggy, who is our intro into these three people in various mental states, has his own issues, but is also the positive light into Leah life (and somewhat by extension, Hogan's) and into this play, with his hobbies karaoke and wrestling partially giving the literal title to the play. It seems odd for what first seems like a side character, but the play dances best between Leah and Jaggy's building relationship, and is easily sustained with Gabe Grey's luminous performance.

The characters are fascinating, even if some of the plotting tends to contradict the characters (at first), and while this makes for dramatic plot reveals, it takes energy from the more fascinating aspects of the play and the characters we've been introduced to. The star-making cast keeps the story grounded in an exciting and promising production of this fascinating oddball play of oddballs trying to grapple with some serious issues.

Photos by John Gundy
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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