No Dumping: Violators Will Be Prosecuted. In front of this unheeded sign and a pile of trash in Toronto’s east-end Moss Park neighbourhood, Tina (Haley McGee) and Bobby (Graeme McComb), an on-again, off-again couple with a toddler, meet to decide whether they have a future together as the latest crises in their downtrodden lives come to a head.
From the audience’s perspective, however, it seems they are simply rooting through the garbage in search of something, anything to justify talking to each other on stage for 60 minutes.
Bobby was laid off from his factory job a year ago and has spectacularly flamed out from every job he’s got since claiming post-traumatic stress; now, he’s considering a life of crime so he can resume his child support. Tina, meanwhile, is being evicted from the apartment she shares with her mother – and, to top it off, she’s pregnant again from a one-night reconciliation earlier in the year.
For some spectators, this encounter will be a bit of a time warp. In his 1993 play Tough!, George F. Walker showed the teenage Tina and Bobby trying to figure out what to do about her first pregnancy. That wiry play has been a mainstay of Canadian drama class scene studies ever since thanks to its sharply drawn young characters.
Now, 20 years later, Bobby and Tina have cellphones – but they’ve only aged a couple of years. Wearing a plaid shirt open over a collared one, Bobby looks to be stuck in the 1990s, while Tina, in a hipster hoodie and skinny jeans, appears to have jumped into the present day and maybe up an economic bracket or two. (Curiously, director Patrick McDonald’s perfunctory production has no costume designer credited – only Heather Landon as the “costume co-ordinator”.)
Maybe this is a choice: After all, Tina has matured significantly – or at least seems to have in McGee’s well-crafted, well-rounded performance – while Bobby, played by the more clownish McComb, hasn’t progressed all that much. Despite running away from his past responsibilities, he still seems emotionally incapable of dealing with anything new thrown his way. Though, as he puts it at the end of one self-pitying whine, “I’m not complaining, I’m explaining.”
Walker’s drawn on his working-class, east-end roots for his plays since the 1980s – and he’s certainly shown characters from these circumstances can populate a compelling drama. But a laundry list of the perils of poverty is not sufficient for one, even with a few good jokes thrown in.
Moss Park ambles along in a competent imitation of a play, pulling out a new sordid revelation every time the action slackens too much – whether it’s the mentally unstable cousin of Tina’s who burnt down her house but who now seems the only safe harbour; or how Bobby’s father has stopped drinking so much, because he’s started smoking more weed with his biker girlfriend. Tina remarks that, like many, her grandparents came to Canada in search of the dream of a better life for their children – but sometimes that doesn’t work out.
But as this poverty porn twists in an entirely contrived and out-of-character direction – only to snap back right at the end – the emptiness of the exercise becomes apparent. A play that can’t even sustain interest for an hour perhaps deserves to be dumped.