Toronto’s LowDown Theatre Company presents Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, a play by Eric Bogosian
I see a lot of theatre. And while Toronto offers a diverse fare with something for everyone you seldom come across a show that will enthrall you as LowDown Theatre’s production of Eric Bogosian’s Wake Up and Smell the Coffee at The Assembly Theatre.
The play is comprised of a collection of loosely connected monologues, performed by 17 outstanding actors, dealing with the cultural shift of the 1990s and tackling hot button issues such as racism, terrorism, the hollowness of consumerism and the grueling realities of capitalism. As a counterpoint to the all-male cast, each piece is thoughtfully directed by a female director.
The very intimate performance space does not afford you the opportunity to lose focus and not only because you are very close to the action, but, because an actor could be sitting next to you, making eye contact, brushing past you as they exit or attempting to shake your hand (don’t worry there is no audience participation as such).
Although the duration of the show, two hours with no intermission, does begin to wear you down towards the end, it has to be said that the cast manages to keep the energy sky-high throughout the performance. There is never a lull starting with Jamie Johnson’s alpha male display of bravado in The Promise (directed by Kate McArthur) all the way to Dylan Brenton’s carefree hippie who seems to be fraying at the edges in The Highway (directed by Kay Brattan).
While all the actors have an incredible technical flair for taking on the physicality and accent of the archetype of the character that they were playing my absolute favorite was Christian Potenza who starts out as a feel good motivational speaker, but, quickly takes a dark turn in Intro (directed by Melanie Pyne). Potenza has a genuine talent for relaxed comedic delivery while showcasing the jadedness of his character.
My friend, John, was enamored of Mike Vitorovich as the charming and slightly terrifying Satan in The Offer (directed by Andrea Irwin) and as the new age-y, sleazy charlatan in Harmonious (directed by Victoria Urquhart). He slides seamlessly between soothing and alarming; between compelling and sleazy. Another superlative actor is Chris Whitby, in Breakthrough (directed by Dana Puddicombe), whose portrayal of a single dad, with a temper that goes from 0 to aneurysm in under 3 seconds, will leave you in stitches, but, his glimpses of vulnerability might just break your heart.
Every once in a while you think that a character has tapped into a way out; salvation from the monotony and grind of modern life, but, it is quickly taken away by the wistful realization that that out is very much a part of the system that the character is rebelling against. While almost all the monologues have running themes of disillusionment, gallows humor is really the glue that binds it all together (it’s funny ‘cause its true!)
This is a show to see. Even if you don’t pick up on all the 1990s references, you will find that it is equally applicable to life in 2017. It will captivate and stay with you.