Architect Theatre, a collective-creation company full of fresh-faced young performers, first came to Canadian theatregoers’ attention when they put together and toured a semi-documentary play about Fort McMurray, Alta., the second most-vilified city in the country.
Now, with the help of playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman (and her pa, director Layne Coleman), these theatrical reporters have turned their eyes to the city at the top of most Canadians’ hate list: Toronto.
Unlike their Fort Mac show, This Must Be the Place is a full-on revue, with no through-line to tie things together. It’s subtitled The CN Tower Show, even though only a few of the Torontonians interviewed or invented for the production even mention the giant glowing cocktail stirrer that sits off-centre in the city’s skyline.
Perhaps that’s the joke. After all, the CN Tower serves no purpose to most locals, except as a common reference point – a giant arrow that says You Are Here, wherever that is.
This Must Be the Place ultimately functions as a theatrical substitute for the sadly defunct Speakers’ Corner, the CITY-TV video booth where a cross-section of Toronto gave their opinions for almost two decades.
In this case, the cast of four impersonates interviews they conducted with a cross-section of Hogtown – former mayors and panhandlers, steelworkers and Scarberians, artists and imams. While little of this digs below surface level, the overall effect is charming, like a Second City show with fewer laughs, but a bigger heart.
Greg Gale, born and raised in Newfoundland, is the funniest of the bunch, his specialty being sending up what you might call the “downtown elite” – especially those sanctimonious, male liberals who sigh about how Toronto could truly be a “world-class” city if only it weren’t for [insert complaint about transit, waterfront development or conservative mayor here].
Tall, thin and a little wild, Gale is also hilarious portraying a series of more absurd individuals such as a TTC employee giving an overly enthusiastic tour of the Roncesvalles streetcar yards, or a swing-dance instructor trying to teach with a leg injury.
My second favourite of the performers was Ingrid Hansen, a wiry redhead who adds a wry edge of mad physicality to many of the characters she portrays. Rounding out the cast are the softer-edged Georgina Beaty and Thomas Anthony Olajide, who are pleasant to spend time with but would be more loveable if they tried less hard to be so.
Perhaps my favourite vignette was a re-enactment of a few minutes of Toronto city council’s latest debate on banning plastic bags. Here, Olajide got to put on the exasperated-progressive act playing councillor Adam Vaughan, while Gale pulled out a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the notoriously right-wing councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.
An aspect of documentary theatre that I love is the way it makes the familiar strange, putting well-known personalities in unusual bodies and throwing you off as a spectator. In this case, the site of so much divisive debate over the past few years was transformed into a place that was silly, sweet and even a bit beautiful.
In addition to portraying Torontonians on stage, This Must Be the Place invites them on stage too – that is to say, there is a fair bit of audience participation. You may be invited to join the dance class or vote on city-council motions.
While the energy generally keeps up during the scripted parts – Jonathan Seinen is the director – these improvised moments can drag a tad.
Theatre Passe Muraille, the long-running alternative theatre that’s producing this show, has curated a Toronto season this fall, with mostly young artists performing at nearby intersections or leading audio tours of Queen West.
Civic boosterism was more common in the city’s artistic community a few years back, but there’s been a drift toward the snide and outraged in reaction to the current mayor. Perhaps Torontopianism simply comes in waves, as a new crop of creators rides in and is enchanted for a while before becoming jaded.
This Must Be the Place may be slight, but it’s a joy to have the place put in perspective and feel nice about Toronto for 90 minutes.