When I first moved to Toronto, my best non-theater friend raved about George F. Walker. She remembers his name as a playwright above many others, which is impressive since she is bad with names (and claims this proudly). When I heard that not only was his new play, Moss Park, to premiere at Theatre Passe Muraille in the fall, but that the York MFA directing students would be putting on their interpretation of its prequel, Tough!, on campus, I knew I had to make it to both performances to see for myself.
Tough! was an emotional overload in many ways. The situation: a girl (Tina) and guy (Bobby) meet up in the local park in their working class neighborhood so the girl can accost him for cheating on her. But it’s really a test to see if he’s ready to take responsibility for his actions because Tina is pregnant. I’m in class with the directors in the MFA program and I want to say that the reason it was too much to handle emotionally wasn’t the original text or the direction, but more that the actors were inexperienced (third years in York’s undergrad program, after all). It wasn’t the situation–because I’ve seen this issue many times on Teen Mom and other MTV shows–but that the actors went straight to screaming anger most of the time. Too much to handle for two hours, especially when the four different chunks overlapped, meaning that the audience lived through the same conflict more like two times instead of just one, short hour.
That being said, I was still glad I had seen the play when I got to Theatre Passe Muraille this past Wednesday for George F. Walker’s new play and Tough!‘s sequel, Moss Park. I could have figured out the plot quickly without the previous performance, but knowing Tough! actually gave me a better critical eye into the piece. I thought I would love it–two-hander play with minimal set, but set securely in Toronto with characters that otherwise might not have voices on stage–but throughout I kept wondering what was the point?
Moss Park picks up at least a year after Tough! ends. Tina has had the baby, Holly, who is now a two-year old and Bobby, though trying his best, is out of work and still not supporting the family. They meet in the park to hash out the details of how to possibly remain out of shelters and together as a family–an almost impossible task complicated by the announcement that Tina is pregnant again. I wanted so desperately to fight for Bobby or Tina, or both of them, but I found myself not caring. I laughed at the jokes they made, Bobby’s lazy dreams of becoming a rapper, Tina’s incredulity and tough outer shell–but I couldn’t help finding my mind wandering away from the stage many times. As I said before, I couldn’t help but think, “Haven’t I seen this on MTV already?” What is new about this couple’s struggle, besides the fact that they live in Toronto and not in one of the rural American communities depicted on Teen Mom and Sixteen and Pregnant?
Surprisingly, I realized that Tough!, even in the student production I saw, had much more to offer. With the addition of the third character, Tina’s friend Jill, the dynamics were much more interesting. There was always the question: what is Jill doing here? Intervening in what is otherwise a very intimate, private discussion between a soon-to-be mother and soon-to-be father? Moss Park was missing this divisive third character. Secondly, I realized that I fell in love with one of Bobby performances from the York production. The girl who played Bobby in the opening sequence turned this otherwise stereotyped, lazy, rather slow baby daddy into a sympathetic character–one who could be hurt and thrown off by the unplanned pregnancy just as much as the mother. As much as I wanted to like Moss Park‘s Grame McComb and listen to his point of view on the mess of life, I couldn’t think of him as anything but a hapless cartoon of a young man.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what I think of George F. Walker from these two plays. On the one hand, they attempt to uncover the voices of underprivileged, poverty-trapped people here in Toronto. On the other hand, they seem to set traps for inexperienced actors with their melodramatic situations that ride too close to reality television to be taken seriously on stage.