With a tagline as gaudy as, “You are not going to believe what happened at The Oak Room”, The Oak Room is a play that is so much smarter than advertised.
The foreboding ‘description’ of the performance by Fracas Theatre for the Toronto Fringe Festival sets both the eerie tone and the precision of writer Peter Genoway’s style that is apparent in The Oak Room. Genoway’s fascination with narrative underlies the sneaky plot of his play, in which a single story line has been broken up and pieced together very elegantly with a bright cast of five men.
The scene: in a blue-collar bar, sitting quiet before a wintry Ontario night, a conversation between two men. One just past middle age and the other riddled with college angst. They have known each other for some time but it’s been a while and things aren’t quite friendly. The elder bullies, the younger cowers, but the conversation persists and from it emerges a tale of macho and mystery. Excuse all the adjectives for I’m trying to be discreet. The plot is genuinely suspenseful and I wouldn’t want to ruin that for you so I’m trying to just set the mood.
What I can say is that the structure of the play – the way that it unfolds – is wonderful. I think this is why The Oak Room is such a thriller, because beyond the plot is a narrative design, a way of storytelling, with suspense built right into it. You think that things are one way and then whoop! Off your rocker you go. Kind of like how a car would drive on the black ice roads outside the bar there. It’s all very slippery, the stories leading one into another, characters gliding in and out of view, the bar but one and yet changing…
The first part of the tagline, “You are not going to believe…” is crucial: perhaps it is fiction that gives meaning to fact, perhaps what you believe is all you have. This is what the play is about – the life that one creates in telling a story. Each of the cast members takes his turn breathing life into the art, each of their performances is very strong. These are well supported by subtle and clean theatrical effects.
My favourite part of the play, though, is when it gets creepy. Interestingly, this is what happens in my own mind and I think that this is the brilliance of The Oak Room.
It reminded me of how easily hearing a story can change how things seem at the moment. How often are we reacting to things that aren’t actually present? I feel rather lonely imagining my world as a concoction of stories. And in an almost empty bar in a relatively isolated locale, this is just the place to go into the recesses of a mind.
An ode to the good old Canadian dive bar. To the stories that happen there…
July 3 – 10:30pm
July 6 – 7:30pm
July 8 – 10:30pm
July 9 – 8:30pm
July 10 – 2:00pm
July 12 – 2:15pm
July 14 – 4:30pm
- Individual Fringe tickets ($10) are available during the festival, at Theatre Passe Muraille (1 hour prior to each performance), cash sales only. Latecomers will not be admitted.
- Advance $11 tickets available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416.966.1062, ext. 1, or at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St. W).
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.
Photo by Peter Genoway.