Adam Paolozza and Ravi Jain bring their hit Spent back to Toronto after touring it around the world, and it's still on the money.
The financial crisis of 2008 is nearing half a decade into the past, which, clearly, has not been enough time for the ripples to die down completely—not in our economy and not in our cultural consciousness. When Ravi Jain, one half of the clownish cast of Spent, steps onto the stage and holds up a sign reading HIRE ME!, it might not apply to the same Bay Street workers who lost their jobs five years ago, but it could easily capture the predicament of anyone who graduated university since and hasn’t found work due to the fallout.
Just as we’re still dealing with the aftereffects, we still need art to help us process it—in the case of this play, a darkly comedic spin on the financial downturn and the persistent greed that allowed it to happen once, and probably will allow it to happen again.
Sharply dressed in suits and hats, Jain and his partner-in-clown Adam Paolozza charmed audiences when Spent premiered in Toronto in 2009 (well, not all of them were completely sold). Since then, Jain, Paolozza, and their directors Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith brought Spent to international destinations like Mumbai, New York City, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They’re back in Toronto at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts for a very limited run, and though the times have changed a bit, Jain and Paolozza haven’t lost a bit of their chemistry.
The plot of Spent is thin: Jain and Paolozza cycle through about 20 different characters, by turns playing a few of the major players in the economic crisis; a pair of BBC anchors; international stock market watchers; and a pair of Bay Street suits who survive a fall from their building’s ledge to become “The Miracle on Bay Street,” and the apparent saviours of the global economy. Up until the story turns mythological, Jain and Paolozza make it easy for the audience to hang on to every moment, despite their rapid-fire twists, turns, and character changes. But once they take that tumble off their office building, so does the story. Awkward pacing and unclear elements lead up to an unfortunately flat ending.
That said, the dynamic duo of Jain and Paolozza turn those downturns right-side up. These two are endlessly watchable, sublimely physical, and totally in sync. Their scenes may involve cardboard signs, a can of peas, or literally a pile of cash, but most of the time their bodies are all the set and props they need.
While the crisis left many in the dumps, if there were anyone who could spark a chuckle or two, it’s Jain (who recently found success with his mother in A Brimful of Asha) and Paolozza (who last appeared in Artaud: Un portrait en décomposition at the 2012 SummerWorks festival). After all, time is supposed to heal all wounds. But there’s still a biting edge to Spent that will, unfortunately for us and fortunately for Smith, Gilmour, Jain, and Paolozza, take more time to soften.