Review: Wrecking Ball #18: #deadcoonTO: Police Brutality (Wrecking Ball)

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Wrecking Ball’s topical show sheds light on police brutality on the Toronto stage

Wrecking Ball is a series that presents political theatre about a immediate topic in current events. This means that the pieces presented on any given night are written and rehearsed hastily and with no budget. This has obvious drawbacks in terms of quality, but it also gives artists freer reign to do cutting-edge work and say things that might be otherwise censored for fear of offending funders. At its best, Wrecking Ball gives us short plays that speak vibrant truth and asks relevant questions. Unfortunately, #deadcoonTO was not its best. 

#deadcoonTO was about a phenomenon very important to me: police brutality. This is a hot topic recently because the accounts of police unjustifiably killing black people have mounted  seemingly exponentially lately. (Which is likely not because they are happening more often but that social media helps to spread the word and identify them as murders instead of whatever party line the police are spreading.)

I think the fact that I care about this issue so much was a detriment to my enjoyment of Monday’s show. I probably expected too much. That said, this is not my first Wrecking Ball, and there’s a new group of organizers who are not as experienced as the last bunch, so some of my reservations are valid.

The very opening scene, between an older black male professor and his young South Asian assistant was timely and nuanced and I wish there had been more pieces like it. I would like to mention who the playwright and performers were, but unfortunately there was no program. All I have is a partial list of some of the featured artists with nothing to indicate which vignette they were involved in.  Where I’ve written names below is because I recognized the people on stage.

One of the most effective pieces of the night was Guillermo Verdecchia’s rant about Bill C24. And of course it was great, it was Guillermo Verdecchia! But while it was about something incredibly important – an oppressive legislation that literally creates second-class citizens and, as Verdeccchia points out, transfers power away from the courts to the political parties – it was not directly about police brutality. Which would have been fine if it was part of an evening with a tighter knit fabric than #deadcoonTO‘s loose weave.

Another of the stand-outs was a monologue from the perspective of a raccoon, delivered by Kaleb Alexander. This was hilarious and did eventually address police brutality. It  was also the only time the theme of the evening was portrayed: that Torontonians were over the moon with the dead raccoon stunt while they ignored yet another police killing, this time of Andrew Loku.

I’m going to rush past the stilted, eyeroll-inducing performance of the national anthem sung as “Oh Klanada” to mention two more one-person pieces: a touching number called Dear Officer by the sister of a boy beaten by cops, and a rousing confessional-turned-hip-hop about being a front-line activist by Donna-Michelle St.Bernard. But other than the opening, the only other multi-character play was confused and disappointing.

While traditionally Wrecking Ball has given playwrights one week to write a short piece and then one more week for the actors and directors to rehearse, the onstage announcement last night seemed to indicate that the theatre artists were given one week in total this time. That would explain why the only piece with a larger cast was such a mess. One or two people can throw something together in a week – if they have a lot of time and energy – but I’m not surprised it didn’t work for a cast of four.

There wasn’t enough material for a full show, so they included “time bombs” where they invited members of the audience to come up and complain about anything that was “grinding their gears.” Perhaps if they had limited it to on-topic gripes – and really limited the number of them, they seemed to go on and on – this would perhaps have been a nice level of interaction. As it was, it just came off as annoying filler.

In that past I’ve really enjoyed Wrecking Ball, so I hope the new crew running it tightens their act up for future presentations. In the meantime, I can’t help but feel the artists and audience alike would have better spent their time at the Black Lives Matter protest that shut down Allen Road than in the theatre.