After Wrestling: an exuberant loopy comedy about death - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto
After Wrestling: an exuberant loopy comedy about death 02 March 2018
by Drew Rowsome -Photos by John Gundy
Indebted both to kitchen sink melodrama and classic French farce, After Wrestling is impossible to synopsize or possibly even explain. Both hilariously funny and utterly tragic, it is best just to surrender to the ride and, like the characters, believe that everything will work out somehow. And miraculously it does.
A loopy comedy intimately concerned with mental illness, suicide, the afterlife and the difference/similarities between love, lust, obsession and sex, After Wrestling moves, at a breakneck pace, switching locales, time periods, moods and forms of reality with abandon. All confusion is deliberate, there are secrets to be concealed and revealed, and never for a second is the audience in doubt about what is happening or where. Except when they aren't. The soundtrack is slanted towards mid-'80s Bowie, all glistening catchy surfaces with a dark deep fear just underneath: a perfect metaphor for After Wrestling.
There is also a gleeful casually clever stagecraft involved. Blackouts are tight and characters appear and reappear through slamming doors or hidden entrances. Several distinct locations are created out of a combination of lighting, realistic props and surreal invention. A restaurant/nightclub gets a hearty laugh of recognition just with the flick of a switch. Even a fictitious hallucinated radio station becomes a very real and grounded place. The split second timing gives After Wrestling an exuberant rush, that uniquely theatrical energy that anything can happen.
In hindsight the characters are over-exaggerated, cartoonish like wrestlers, but while in the moment, the actors seize the oversized passions and render them solid and endearing. It is a task not to be underestimated. Libby Osler begins as the voice of reason, the centre around which the rest spin, before accelerating out of control herself. Anthony Shim's character Gibby is dead and lives as a mutable memory. When the two characters unite in duet of grief and regret, it is painful and beautiful to experience, and perversely heightens the comedy around it.
Charlie Kerr, also a co-writer, has the strangest and most far-ranging arc. From a frenzied half-naked monologue explaining a breakdown, through love lost to the darkest one-liner imaginable, he is a whirlwind of angst, grief and bravado. His opposite is Gabe Grey as the impossibly handsome and impossibly thick-headed police officer/wrestler/karaoke singer who strolls into the trio's orbit. He also has a habit of pronouncing cryptic lines that sound like important metaphors while struggling to be the decent man he believes he is. He also gets the most ferocious moment, playing an emotional breakdown simultaneously with a parody of an emotional breakdown. And all set to A-ha.
The other co-writer Bryce Hodgson also directs and his ability to unleash a frenzied tornado of comic action that builds into a tsunami of grief is unique. The plot is absurdly convoluted and implausible yet conjured with documentary precision. He also designed the set which is crammed with details, including a lovingly dishevelled kitchen table littered with take-out food containers and what appears to be filthy dishes. Though it never figures in the action, the chairs are never used, there is this small telling corner of the stage that we recognize as real and the stage is grounded as After Wrestling launches itself into the great surreal unknown.
The wrestling metaphor stated in the title - and yes spandex is worn but not by who one would expect (and had hoped for) - is not just about masks, trash talk and false bravado. It is also about wrestling with life, grief, trying to survive and escape a headlock. But it's also about wrestling narrative and theatre into a compelling form, wrestling ideas into some form of coherence. Letting the pauses breathe in the midst of a maelstrom of words, wrestling conflicting desires into a compromise or a form of adulthood. Wrestling one's demons. And trying to figure out what happens After Wrestling.
After Wrestling continues until Sun, March 18 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca