I’d Like to Propose Some Toast: To Poor Boy

What does it take to be a rock star? What happens when a rock star dies? What about the greatest lover of your life? Can she be replaced? Enter The River’s Edge Hotel and get introduced to Sherman Oakes, a superstar who will only enter and leave on his terms. The answers will not be flung at you like Koosh balls from a slingshot, but you will certainly be encouraged to think, and draw parallels and impressions of your own.
Zuppa Theatre Company, the pride of Halifax’s avant-garde theatre scene, is an ensemble based company that was founded in 1998 by Ben Stone and Sandy Gribbin and they are fresh off their critically acclaimed run of Poor Boy (directed by Alex McLean) in Neptune’s Studio Theatre and now the show is being remounted at the Glen Morris Studio Theatre in conjunction with the Graduate Centre of Drama at the University of Toronto. Zuppa shows are “rides through wild visions, genres, familiar stories and the unknown; the experiences, thoughts and inclinations of the lead artists determine the landscape.”
Poor Boy is more reliant on text and narrative than some of the company’s earlier work, but it feels as though it is the emotions of the story that are at the heart of the piece, and they are a launching pad for the play and the words that emerge from it. The dialogue reads like poetry, and although it doesn’t always make complete narrative sense, the actors believe in what they are saying so absolutely, that the audience believes in it as well, and as the characters and the actors make sense of the way they are expressing themselves, this sense is transmitted to the audience like magic.
This show is rooted in the brilliance of its performers. Sue Leblanc-Crawford as Miranda gives 400% of herself in every single moment, and creates this beautifully wild, naively open, frantically emotional character who you feel could do anything at any moment but always utterly devoid of malice. Kathryn McCormack is fantastic as Miranda’s sister Eunice, a straight-forward, protective matriarch, and Ben Stone creates this amazing manager Desmond Landy, who is like every portrayal of the sleazy agent/manager character you’ve seen in a movie, yet slightly off kilter, as though he lives in a dream world. Stewart Legere is phenomenal as Sherman Oakes, a washed-up rock star, reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis late in his career, mourning the death of the love of his life, Ella Savant. Legere broke his leg before the run in Halifax, and so performs using crutches, which work so magically with his character, the broken leg seems like fate. His movements are incredible. He has such dexterity, there is this amazing moment where he moves the piano bench slowly toward the piano with his crutch, and the audience does not breathe, they are so mesmerized. When he begins to play the trumpet, after playing guitar, singing, playing the piano and acting his little heart out amid crutches, you have a moment where you wonder, “Is there anything this boy cannot do?”
The only thing I wasn’t sold on was Claire Gallant’s portrayal of the cracked-out crazy Ella Savant. Gallant seemed far too gentle and reserved for this part. I know she is more of a cello player (and a superb one) than an actor, but it seemed like the part demanded someone to rival Leblanc-Crawford and Legere, or else it doesn’t make sense why their characters are in love with her or how she became the rock star who metaphorically eats her groupies…
Zuppa Theatre Company shows defy definition. They can’t be explained without reducing them to mediocrity and you can’t try to pin them down, without killing the wonderful possibility that emerges from every moment. You can’t stick meaning to them like a band aid because nothing will stick. All I can say is that it is a treat to have Zuppa Theatre Company in Toronto, and they will only be here until Sunday afternoon, so you should all hurry up and call the Graduate Centre of Drama for tickets before Sherman Oakes leaves the building for good.
Poor Boy plays until Sunday March 22nd at 2:00 at the Glen Morris Studio Theatre. 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto. For tickets call 416 978-7986.

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