By James Karas
When fantasy encroaches on reality, we are in familiar territory. When reality trespasses on fantasy and you can’t tell what is real and what is imaginary, you are in a strange world. That is the world that Kat Sandler creates in Mustard now playing at the Tarragon Extra Space.
We meet Mustard (Anand Rajaram), a big man with large eyes dressed as a clown. We learn that he is the imaginary friend or boon of Thai (Rebecca Liddiard) but with a difference. Thai is a troubled sixteen-year old and well past the age when she should still have an imaginary friend.
Paolo Santalucia, Rebecca Liddiard and Anand Rajaram in Mustard. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Thai’s mother Sadie (Sarah Dodd) has been left by her husband and takes drugs and alcohol in excessive quantities. Mustard appears to her as well and after some lively and very funny arguments they become friends and have a date.
Mustard has his own problems. The boon police represented by the hilarious Tony Nappo as Bug and the uppity Julian Richings as Leslie are pursuing him because he has overstayed his term as a boon. Their methods include sticking needles under his nails and taking out a couple of teeth using terrifyingly big pliers.
Mustard takes on more than one personality adding to the fascinating interplay between fantasy and reality with Sandler making sure that we do not relax during this intriguing play.
Sandler’s brisk dialogue is sprinkled with very funny lines, some really salty language and creates energy. Underlying the humour and levity is a great deal of violence. Thai is involved in some vicious altercations and in fact shows up with a black eye. She smashes a glass in the face of her boyfriend Jay (Palolo Santalucia) that sends him to the hospital.
The cast of six actors give stellar performances. Rajaram is quick-witted, funny and chameleon-like as Mustard. Fantasy and reality meet in him. Sarah Dodd is funny, dramatic and highly effective as the lonely, alcoholic and ineffectual mother who does not know how to deal with a rebellious daughter.
Santalucia does a fine job as the hapless but loving boyfriend Jay. Nappo and Richings are Keystone Kops with an undertow of violence.
Major kudos goes to Liddiard for giving us a fascinating Thai, a thought-provoking character who is searching for love, affection or simply for herself.
Set Designer Michael Gianfrancesco has turned the small acting area of the Extra Space into a whole apartment. There is a bedroom for Thai with two windows for escape purposes; a living room and a door leading to the street with enough room for a bicycle to be visible.
A bow to director Ashlie Corcoran who brings the play to life with marvelous coordination and excellent performances.
Speaking of small acting area, I query why the play is not produced in the main space. The play is a significant achievement by Sandler and it deserves to be seen by more people.
Mustard by Kat Sandler continues until March 13, 2016 at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com