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Stephen Jackman-Torkoff (left) as Smash and Verónica Hortigüela (centre) as Crystal with Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah (right) as Grace, Rose Tuong (behind) as Annabel and Richard Lam (far left) as Matt in Every Little Nookie.David Hou/Stratford Festival

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  • Title: Every Little Nookie
  • Written by: Sunny Drake
  • Director: ted witzel
  • Actors: Rose Tuong, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, John Koensgen, Marion Adler
  • Company: The Stratford Festival
  • Venue: Studio Theatre
  • City: Stratford, Ont.
  • Year: Runs to Oct. 1, 2022
  • COVID-19 measures: Reduced capacity performances available.

Critic’s Pick

Every Little Nookie, now having its world premiere at the Stratford Festival, is a bit of a bait and switch.

It’s being marketed as a “sex romp” about polyamory and swinging, but at its core it’s about what really gets everyone hot and bothered these days: real estate prices.

Sunny Drake’s sprightly farce has two sets of protagonists on each side of today’s housing divide: A group of cash-strapped, renting Millennial urbanites, and a pair of wealthy, homeowning Boomer suburbanites.

Annabel (Rose Tuong), an artist who pays her bills delivering UberEats, is in a polyamorous relationship with Grace (normally Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah; understudy Antonette Rudder was in seamlessly on opening night), a full-time social justice warrior and part-time mall Santa.

This Toronto couple are on the verge of being evicted from their barely affordable apartment along with their roommate, a Marxist economist/sex worker named Crystal (Veronica Hortiguela). This also affects non-binary Smash (a lively Stephen Jackman-Torkoff), one of Grace’s secondary partners and a regular couch-surfer who is part of their non-traditional “fam”.

Meanwhile, a generation gap away, Annabel’s parents, Margaret (Marion Adler, fearless) and Kenneth (John Koensgen), are approaching the final phase of their lives, their bedroom antics reduced to quietly playing Scrabble on the iPads before going to sleep. Though affluent, the couple have their own housing issues: When should they downsize – and should it be to a nearby seniors community?

Margaret, who’s hiding a tremor in her hand, is eager for a more active life while it’s available to her, but Kenneth is inhibiting all change by refusing to retire.

These two worlds intertwine when Margaret and Kenneth head to their cottage – and ask Annabel to take care of the dog in their absence.

Smash, who makes a living throwing parties for swingers (and whose pronouns are they/them), convinces Annabel to let them host one at her parents’ house for a cut of the proceeds.

It’s no surprise, of course, that Margaret and Kenneth return unexpectedly while it’s under way – but that’s just the inciting incident.

Sunny Drake is a playwright keen on accessibility in the old-fashioned sense – that is, eager to win over a broad audience with laughter.David Hou/Stratford Festival

While Margaret initially appears most appalled by the situation, her libido is reactivated by what she wandered in on – and she secretly seeks to learn more about the swinging lifestyle from Smash. At the same time, Annabel’s personal life is complicated by a new whirlwind romance with a square straight single dad named Matt (Richard Lam), who Grace fears will ultimately sweep her away into a wicked heteronormativity.

The ripple effects of the mom’s interest in experimentation and the daughter’s temptation by monogamy drive the plot – but the action is always undergirded by the affordability crisis of our time. Multiple partners? In this economy?

Drake is a playwright keen on accessibility in the old-fashioned sense – that is, eager to win over a broad audience with laughter. His comic default, for better or for worse, are dad jokes – some of which are openly described as such in the play – and his sex positivity is decidedly squeaky clean.

Certain long-standing Stratford theatregoers – I’m talking about older, well-to-do white people – will appreciate that his play’s commitment to inclusiveness includes them, too, and that they are not merely to be the villains.

The playwright, indeed, ably steps around all kinds of stereotypes. Smash, louche and lascivious, may sometimes seem like a manic pixie dream enby in the early scenes, but they themselves eventually express concerns about being viewed as such. Likewise, swinger Phoenix – uniquely incarnated by the unappreciated Robert King – is more than the dippy old hippie he initially seems (and is a welcome reminder that not all Boomers are rich and that rising rents affect older people, too).

Director ted witzel’s production is a welcoming one, choosing playfulness over provocation. It, in fact, takes place on a giant piece of playground equipment: a giant slide, designed by Michelle Tracey.

His only misstep is his (or lighting designer Jareth Li’s) overeagerness to make sure the audience understands the way Drake writes overlapping scenes through an excess of lighting shifts; this sometimes throws off the rhythm (or perhaps that was the stage manager falling behind on the overabundance of cues on opening night).

While I found Every Little Nookie more amusing than laugh-out-loud, it moves very nicely and does its own thing. As for its place at Stratford, you could almost say it is almost a Shakespearean comedy in the way it “bends” gender, mixes high and low status characters of different generations and ends with a picture of a new reformed society.

Where it falls short of the Bard is that Willy likes to leave one person out in order to make clear that all utopias are dystopian to someone else. Though perhaps the unspoken sting to the happy ending here – maybe a spoiler, so end here if you like – is the fact that only an intergenerational transfer of capitalist wealth allows for it. I thought Crystal the Marxist might raise her eyebrows at this, at least.

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