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The Globe and Mail

Late Night a punchy play that examines boomer-millenial divide

Late Night stars, from left, Michael Musi, Maria Vacratsis, Kat Letwin and Alon Nashman.

John Gundy

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Late Night
Written by
Kat Sandler
Directed by
Kat Sandler
Company
Kat Letwin, Alon Nashman
Venue
ZoomerPlex
City
Toronto

Moses Znaimer's latest bright, shiny media outlet? Theatre. The mogul who brought us Citytv, MuchMusic and, more recently, ZoomerMedia is moving into the biz originated by the likes of Aeschylus and Aristophanes.

ZoomerLive!, as the new venture is called, seems a smart fit with the larger Zoomer brand of radio, television and print products aimed at "boomers with zip" – as the baby boomers are currently zipping into the prime demographic for live theatre.

It's hard to pin down the stats in Canada – but in Britain, recent research showed that the largest age group for theatre audiences is people between 65 and 74.

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If live theatre is a clear opportunity for Znaimer, his choice of playwright to showcase in ZoomerLive's first show in the ZoomerHall, located in his ZoomerPlex, is less obvious.

Kat Sandler has cultivated a following among twentysomethings and thirtysomethings in Toronto's indie-theatre world with her prolific output of pop-culture-influenced comedies such as Delicacy and Mustard.

Late Night is a punchy and probing play that could conceivably bridge the gap between the generations represented by Sandler and Znaimer, however. It takes place at the final broadcast of The Early Late Show with Marty O'Malley – one of Znaimer's real Toronto television studios doubling here as a fake New York one.

Marty (Alon Nashman), a cynical sixty-ish comic with a Letterman look, who is no longer in favour with the 18-to-35s, is passing the torch to Sarah Goldberg (Kat Letwin), a thirsty thirty-ish comic more sexually frank than Marty, but less sexist. (In her foul-mouthed feminism, she's kind of a cross between Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman.)

Marty's been a mentor to Sarah – but societal shifts are driving a wedge between them.

Marty feels like a victim of ageism in the entertainment industry, while Sarah believes she's had to struggle much harder than Marty ever did for success – through sexist double standards and an industry that's falling apart as she rises within it. This all gets aired out out on air, of course.

The writing in Late Night sprawls at times, as it does in many of Sandler's plays. The scenes could tighten up – with the behind-the-scenes skirmishes between a coffee-chugging older producer (Maria Vacratsis) and a star-struck intern (Michael Musi) seeming most like filler.

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But the subject matter is timely and the jokes deliver uncomfortable laughs at a regular clip. Sandler gets well-calibrated, sympathetic performances from both Nashman and Letwin, plus a marvellously deadpan one from Nigel Downer as a black guest on hand to underline that Marty and Sarah's battle for power is largely a #WhitePeopleProblem.

The best is Rachel Jones as Marty's wife, an Oscar-winning actress who, just in her early 40s, has already aged out of most of the best roles in Hollywood. Somehow, amid depicting an over-the-top breakdown fuelled by Xanax and Scotch, Jones manages to bring genuine pathos to the proceedings.

In many of her plays, Sandler has found entertaining ways to examine the millennial-boomer schism. She's always seemed like a writer who could go far if Toronto had a small-scale commercial-theatre scene. Here's hoping Znaimer's entrance into that arena is more than a one-timer.

Late Night continues to Oct. 23 (zoomerlive.com).

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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