My Theatre

31 January 2014

A Rocky Return for Ken Gass

By // Theatre (Toronto)

pacamambo5 2Factory Theatre martyr Ken Gass’ newest project, Canadian Rep Theatre, premiered its first production this month.

Directed by Gass, Pacamambo is stunning, the first moment the audience is allowed into the theatre. A narrow, off-kilter-rectangle of an acting area is squeezed between two banks of audience seating and – right in the middle of everything is a very compelling stare down between sweat-suit wearing, unkempt Julie (Amy Keating) and prim, proper, sever Psychiatrist (Karen Robinson). Their feet tap, out of synch and then in-synch. They meet glances and look away. All the while, there’s eerie, hollow clanging and whooshing coming over the PA. There are two figures in the corner of the stage who seem tense. The whole thing seems pretty tense. The audience tries to wedge themselves into the space between the doctor and the patient; we try to puzzle out their incredible relationship, couched in their tapping feet and darting eyes; we look across the room at each other: puzzling, interesting, theatrical. Then, without notice, the Psychiatrist leaves, Julie takes moves onto her seat and the play begins.

As they say, it’s all downhill from there. In fact, what’s most stunning about that first moment is how little it has to do with the play and how little tension the play is able to generate in its the wake.

Karen Robinson was given poor direction about how psychiatrists deal with children. She and Keating whine back and forth at each other for several minutes of the play, crescendoing with Robinson complaining: “you have to play ball.” It’s hard to believe, then, when – without notice – Keating does just that, and tells a detailed story of which she seemed so initially protective. Although the play is designed to bring us on some journey with Keating as she discovers the answers to her questions around grief and longing, it leaves us at the side of the road as it spins off, aimlessly.

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