Well, the snow has melted, which means it must be about time for Factory to remount another George F. Walker show. This year, it’s 1974’s Beyond Mozambique, which hasn’t been performed by Factory in thirty years. As the title implies, this early piece by the seminal Canadian playwright is many miles away from more popular, recent Walker plays, such as the Suburban Motel and East End Plays cycles, which typically focus on working-class Torontonians inhabiting a gritty and realistic, if darkly funny, theatrical world. But don’t be fooled into expecting a didactic political work exploring a foreign tragedy.
This isn’t Mozambique; this is beyond Mozambique, which is somewhere in the neighbourhood of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. For starters, everyone is white. Beyond that, everyone is insane. There’s local doctor Rocco, who happens to be an ex-Nazi. He performs Victor Frankenstein-esque experiments on local corpses he acquires with the help of his Igor-like servant, Tomas—a demented Greek bisexual with a bullet in his brain. Rocco’s wife Olga, who believes herself to be her namesake from Chekhov’s play The Three Sisters, likes playing hostess to the neighbours, which include Coporal, a former Mountie and the local law enforcement who is also a pedophile with malaria; Rita, an arms-dealing porn star; and Liduc, a drug-addicted homosexual priest.
If you’re a fan of Walker’s work, this is definitely an interesting play to see. His fabulous dialogue is as sharp and hilarious as you’ve come to expect, and Ken Gass certainly knows how to direct his scripts. The cast is also pretty fantastic. Oliver Becker is very captivating as Rocco, and Sarah Orenstein is an absolute scream as Olga (it doesn’t hurt that her character gets many of the show’s best lines). Joe Cobden is a real surprise as the fallen priest, and on opening night, a lengthy comic monologue actually provoked a round of applause after he had finished. What does hurt the show, ultimately, is Walker’s script, which never invests as fully in the story as it needs to. It also culminates in a frustrating and out-of-place postmodern ending which it’s hard not to view as kind of wanky. It seems almost completely anathema to the aesthetic Walker develops later in his writing career. Still, there are more intelligent belly-laughs per minute in this show than you’re likely to find at any other play in town.
Beyond Mozambique plays at Factory Theatre until May 4.