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Darrel Gamotin, Colin Doyle, Byron Abalos, Richard Lee, and Jeff Yung.

2.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Byron Abalos, Colin Doyle, Darrel Gamotin, Richard Lee, Jeff Yung
Byron Abalos, Colin Doyle, Darrel Gamotin, Richard Lee and Jeff Yung
The 6th Man Collective
The Theatre Centre
Runs Until
Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wham! At the premiere of Monday Nights at Toronto's Theatre Centre, an audience member chasing a basketball ran smack into a brick wall and went down hard.

Now there's an innovative spin on interactive theatre – the actors don't break the fourth wall; the fourth wall breaks you.

I wouldn't want to exaggerate the element of spectatorial danger at Monday Nights, a theatre/basketball-clinic hybrid. But if you're planning to fully participate, you might want to wear a pair of runners so you don't end up like that middle-aged gentleman who got a little too much game on opening night.

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A creation of the 6th Man Collective, Monday Nights deconstructs the weekly pick-up game of basketball that its five actors – Richard Lee, Byron Abalos, Colin Doyle, Darrel Gamotin and Jeff Yung – have played on theatre's traditional day off since 2008.

At each performance, a different actor goes on as the referee – it was Abalos on opening night – while the other four become team captains.

Audience members pick a team to join on the way in after rifling through gym bags belonging to each of the captains. I picked Richard Lee, a.k.a. the leader of Team Blue, based on the fact that his bag contained the books Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss and The Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive Orgasm (as well as a journal full of adorable pictures of his wife Nina and daughter Eponine).

Once seated in the Blue bleachers, my teammates and I were instructed to put on headphones hanging off the back of our chairs. For the first 40 minutes of the play, then, we heard a kind of radio documentary about Lee – as we watched him practice his lay-ups with the other actors and play a little two-on-two.

Designed by Christopher Stanton, the audio commentaries allow each captain to talk about himself, before his teammates then hear what the other captains think about his style of play and his personality in general – with no holds barred.

As member of team Lee, I attempted to detect how my captain's biography matched up with what I saw on the basketball court. A co-founder of fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, Lee's leadership skills are clear in the way he takes charge of exercises and takes pleasure in passing. But you can also see why he has never become the stage star he secretly yearns to be: He doesn't make a lot of baskets and his game is more about good sportsmanship than showmanship, compared to, say, the court clowning Doyle or the youthful pizzazz of Yung.

Once the headphones come off, Monday Nights becomes less dramatic and more gymnastic. Each captain leads his teammates through a series of hasty drills, before a skills competition between teams that ends with a participatory game of three-on-three.

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In a way, Monday Nights's structure mimics the way the body takes over from the brain when you play sports or work out – you may arrive at the gym with all your problems buzzing around your mind, but through physical activity you get out of your head. The same thing happens here: In Team Blue's case, Lee's concerns and cares are transmitted into our ears – we learn a fair bit about the burden of being an underpaid artist raising a young family – but then disappear when the competition begins. The journey is from the self-consciousness of theatre to the self-absorption of performance (art).

It's a cleverly conceived experiment, but does Monday Nights ultimately succeed as theatre or sports entertainment? Well, I can't speak for the experience of 75 per cent of the audience who were following other captains (Yung's team seemed the most entertained), but Lee's inner struggle felt neither dramatic nor deep enough. I only learned about him on a very superficial level – even the book about orgasms in his gym bag was never explained.

The few scripted moments between teammates, meanwhile, jarred as we never got to know them at all. Male friendship has been dissected more strikingly in plays like Daniel MacIvor's Never Swim Alone, which also uses sports as a central metaphor.

It's in its participatory moments that Monday Nights really comes to life – and where I felt I got to know more about my captain. Leading Team Blue through various exercises, Lee was gracious and generous – even if it meant losing points. But your enjoyment as a spectator may vary depending on how much you want to truly immerse yourself in the atmosphere that doesn't amount to much more than a summer-camp colour war for adults – and what kind of shoes you are wearing.

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