Reviewed by James Karas
It is possible to watch a play and get very little out of it. The characters, the plot and just about everything about it conspire to drive your attention away from the happenings on stage and you end up scratching your head about the whole thing afterwards.
That is what happened to me while watching the premiere of Erin Shields’ The Millennial Malcontent at the Tarragon Theatre. I saw shallow, pretentious, tiresome characters romping around the stage, dressing up in ridiculous costumes for a party and evoking almost nothing. There was some humour that the opening night enthusiastic audience reacted to but I found nothing of substance to enjoy.
Rong Fu, Natasha Mumba, Frank Cox-O'Connell, Reza Sholeh, James Daly, Amelia Sargisson,
Alicia Richardson, Liz Peterson. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Shields tells us in a Note in the program that her inspiration for The Millennial came from Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife which he may have written while he was a prisoner in the Bastille and was first acted in 1697. The play is about the unhappy marriage of Sir John Brute and Lady Brute in a world where divorce was not available but adultery was. The characters go off to town in search of love, excitement and revenge, much of it not related to the unhappy marriage that is supposed to be the main plot.
Shields’ play contains echoes of Vanbrugh’s play but it is about today’s superficial, self-centered, Facebook society. No doubt it is intended to be a satire perhaps even a mockery of our youth but it simply misfires.
Johnny (Reza Sholeh) is married to Moxy (Liz Peterson) and they are not happy. Faith (Rong Fu) is in love with Johnny. Frank Cox-O’Connell plays the extravagantly obnoxious Charm who makes videos but spends most of his time tiresomely showing off and frequently at unacceptable decibel levels.
Liz Peterson, Rong Fu, Natasha Mumba, Frank Cox-O'Connell. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Mimi (Amelia Sargisson) is his nice sidekick. We also have Teasel (Natasha Mumba), Heartfelt (James Daly) and Raz (Alicia Richardson. Most of them show up in outlandish costumes the most bizarre being that of a blow-up penis. There are some crude scenes involving genitals and masturbation and some salty language.
Interestingly, The Provoked Wife was roundly denounced for its immorality and in a production in 1701 the actors were indicted for speaking the play’s profane language.
Today’s youth may well be as shallow, pretentious and tiresome, and fully deserve to be satirized as Erin Shields apparently intended but I missed the satire and after a couple of hours I left the theatre trying to figure out what director Peter Hinton and Shields had in mind that simply did not come out.
The Millennial Malcontent by Erin Shields opened on March 9 and will continue until April 9, 2017 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com