Two new (to Toronto) plays address the difficulties the millennial generation has forming and maintaining relationships, and finding their first home.
It may be a trite argument to say younger people are disinclined to see theatre because it doesn’t speak to their situation; after all, many of Netflix’s most popular stay-home-and-watch offerings feature monsters, sorcery, and long ago pasts or far from hence futures. But maybe plays set in the 21st century, and addressing timely issues, will lure 20 and 30-somethings out to playhouses. Two Toronto companies are hoping so, with their current shows.
Precisely Peter Productions has in the past done site specific work in the historic Campbell House Museum, but for the Canadian premiere of British playwright Philip Ridley’s 2015 play Radiant Vermin, they’re staging the show in an underground Kensington art space that’s previously hosted rock shows, among other ventures. Young parents-to-be Jill (Julie Tepperman) and Ollie (Jonas Widdifield) are living in cramped quarters in their city’s roughest neighbourhood when a too-good-to-be-true offer arrives in the mail: a new home, theirs for the taking, provided they move in and fix it up, in an otherwise vacant area. To most young Torontonians, being able to afford their first home is indeed a pipe dream, and the two are initially skeptical, as they explain to the audience in frequent direct address.
After signing the deal (think The Money Pit meets Faust?) with the mysterious Miss Dee (Marium Carvell), they discover they’ll need to become morally flexible, and commit some heinous acts, in order to keep up with their rapidly arriving and high status new neighbours. It’s a darkly droll critique of consumerism and the lengths seemingly good people will go to in order to carve out something for themselves.
The characters in Erin Shields’ The Millennial Malcontent, her loose adaptation of John VanBurgh’s The Provoked Wife, are less concerned with their living situations. Johnny (Reza Sholeh) can (apparently) work an unpaid internship for an NGO because his wife of one year, Moxy (Liz Peterson), comes from money, and they live in an upscale condo, with neighbours like Charm (Frank Cox-O’Connell), a self-obsessed YouTuber who actually makes good money from his “work,” and his sycophantic cousin Mimi (Amelia Sargisson). But Moxy is profoundly unhappy and has taken to going out all night with her friend Raz (Alicia Richardson), looking for trouble. An assortment of other hipster stereotypes—Heartfree (James Daly), an unfocused music geek; Teasal (Natasha Mumba), an uncompromising career student; and Faith (Rong Fu), a lifestyle blogger who’s obsessed with Johnny—round out the social group.
Even more so than Vermin (which, in truth, has a vaguely 80s design aesthetic), Malcontent is chock-full of millennial signposts. In the course of 24 hours, the group participates in a flash mob at Nuit Blanche, plays classic board games, and directly address the audience, as if posting their inner thoughts on a social media platform. (Shields says in the above video she’s inserted hipster references for the amusement of younger patrons who’ll recognize them.) This is all pushed to farcical levels with the costume and design work of Joanna Yu and by director Peter Hinton. And the young cast, most of whom, like the cast of The Circle last fall, are making their debut at the usually more sedate Tarragon, seem to be having a lot of fun with the premise, especially Daly in his Robin costume and Cox-O’Connell as the vainglorious Charm. But it’s Roxy who’s the subtly melancholic core of the show. Imbued by Peterson with charm and a destructive vim, she antagonizes everyone around her, testing their bonds, hoping to hit on something unshakeable, to restore her own lack of faith in her relationship with her doting but clueless husband. She craves the sort of secure connection we’re all looking for, whether we’re Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial.
Radiant Vermin runs to March 19, Dirty Talk (167 Augusta Avenue), Tuesday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m., $35.
The Millennial Malcontent runs to April 9, Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue), Tuesday–Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 2:30 p.m., $22–$65.
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