Review: "The Wonder Pagent" at Coal Mine Theatre

Wonder Pageant.jpg

Joseph Szekeres

  • Chief Toronto Critic

I had taught Dramatic Arts in a secondary school for a couple of years and ‘improv’ was a form that I hesitated and did not like to introduce. For me, it’s not my preferred choice as I know that performers/players must think quickly on their feet and react appropriately. Sometimes, the students got rather silly in their improvs, and I know that’s to be expected with this technique, but it was something that could and did get out of hand.

I couldn’t help but compare ‘The Wonder Pageant” to ‘Forbidden Broadway’ shows that lampoon the current fashionista New York popular musical. What is the connection between these two productions that worked for me? Performers in both shows did not let the silliness get out of hand or out of control. In THE WONDER PAGEANT, I don’t know if there would have been a hand signal or positioning of a performer in such a way to end the scene, but I didn’t care as enough time was allotted to each moment. When the lights came down to blackness, the scene was done and on to the next.

I loved Anna Treusch’s set design. Just cheesy and kitschy enough from the multi coloured Christmas lights framing the stage to the tacky wallpaper and pictures of four pussy cats right down to the garland strewn across Waylen Miki’s keyboard used for the musical accompaniments. The blaringly loud pre-show Christmas music didn’t get on my nerves (that much) because I think all of us seem to tolerate it as we are in the two-week countdown to the holidays.

I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw the tacky Christmas sweater and the ghastly Hanukah sweater with a huge menorah. Everyone else was dressed in Christmasy colours that I believe we all try to find in our clothes closet at least a couple of days before and after ‘the big day’.

The company arrived on stage during the opening number and singing a Christmas carol but not knowing the words. Instead they blah, blah, blahed or hummed loud.  How often have many of us done this if we can’t recall the lyrics to any song?  Nice opening shtick that corralled attention.

The intimacy of Coal Mine Theatre led to some excellent audience interaction, participation and stares from the performers especially if you sat in the front row. Jan Caruana was gutsy enough to venture out into the audience to talk to members and get to know a little more about them. Each night would have been different, and I was amazed in thinking how Jan must have to think so quickly on her feet if something is thrown her way that she hadn’t expected at all. The other performers, while obviously having a quick break from all the zaniness on stage, were also using this information for the next scene to lampoon the family backstory of a couple in the audience. Was the scene successful? Yes, it did create laugher but thankfully it concluded at just the right moment where it did not get monotonous for me.

Final comment:  The wonder in WONDER PAGEANT for me was realizing how these performers could sustain the quick paced momentum of 75 minutes sans intermission break. The wonder also stemmed from the fact there is no script, no plan, zero content and even less rehearsal. To these performers, or anyone who can accomplish this task, I applaud you all heartily that you still have the mental and physical stamina to do it.

‘The Wonder Pageant’ continues to December 23, 2018 at Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. Tickets are getting scarce but visit first.

The performance runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

Photo of the company of ‘The Wonder Pageant’ by Tim Leyes

Connor Low: Stage Manager; Mark Andrada: Lighting Design; Sim Suzer: Costume Design; Anna Treusch: Set Design; Charissa Wilcox: Production Designer