Review: This Is The Thing (Charcoal Sketch Productions)

by Lucy Allen

This Is The Thing, which opened this week at Theatre Passe Muraille, is about one man’s journey to make sense of the world around him.  I’m usually wary of these types of one-person shows but this one proved to be a moving night of theatre.

Writer and performer Jeff Jones splits the evening into two parts.  The first half of the show is the play This Is The Thing, in which he contemplates the meaning of life through anecdotal stories, music and the occasional meeting with his mother.  There is something of a structure: a “chapter title” will be given, Jones will ruminate at length and then often finish by singing a song he wrote relating to that topic.

With subjects like “Truth and Beauty” and “Waiting” the show could easily verge on being classified as a “pretentious student production”.  But both the writing and Jones’ natural charm sell the show.  There is just something so earnest about Jones’ performance that you just can’t help but root for the guy as he figures things out.  He was a joy to watch both in his dramatic performance and in the songs he sang.

There were points, though, when I felt like I needed just a bit more from the subject matter.  My show partner Shannon mentioned that at times it felt like a very good first draft of a script: there was a lot of great groundwork and a lot of good ideas, but the focus is still a bit muddled.  The best example of this is the character of the mother, who is a fairly vague presence until the very end.  I would have liked to have gotten to know her a bit earlier instead of focusing on the abstract ideas that Jones tended to do. 

When I say this, though, I’m saying it as someone that thoroughly enjoyed this show.  There is some great work done here from the original songs sung by Jones to his funny anecdotes to a heartbreaking ending that had me tearing up.  The whole thing is anchored with a central concept which keeps those abstract ideas from taking over.  I’d definately be interested in seeing how the show evolves in the next few years as it’s already gotten off to a great start.

The second half of the show is basically a concert of some more songs that Jones wrote (and a couple he didn’t).  This seemed like it was placed there more to fill out the evening than anything else, but it was some great entertainment and Shannon’s favourite part of the night.  Once again, Jones is just a great charismatic storyteller, the sort of guy that you’d want to meet at a party.  And he’s written some great music to top it all off.

This Is The Thing is not a play so much as it’s a personal quest on stage.  It’s a good show to see if you’ve been contemplating your own place in the world lately and need to feel a little less alone.

This Is The Thing is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace (16 Ryerson Ave) until September 25.
-Shows are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sat at 2:30pm
-Tickets are $20 or $15 for students
-Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-504-7529.