The Ties That Bind and Gag (Poor Life Choices Productions) 2018 Toronto Fringe Review

Photo of Rachel VanDuzer, Toni Ellwand, and Barry Birnberg in The Ties That Bind and Gag

The Ties That Bind and Gag, created by Poor Life Choices Productions, cast itself in the model of a typical drawing room play. The show, running at the Factory Theatre as part of the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, features minimal set and staging, focusing instead on dialogue.

Three generations of a family pile into a car on their way to a funeral. From the moment the engine starts, it’s clear that none of them can stand each other, and that they have a long drive ahead of them.

The script is more or less solid, clearly defining its characters from the first minute and setting up clear points of contention. Unfortunately, it does this by relying on pretty loosely sketched stereotypes, like an overbearing Jewish mother and a combatively progressive millennial daughter. The pacing is uneven as well, featuring long digressions that have little bearing on the plot, like an extended discussion of cultural appropriation that might have felt current two or three years ago.

What’s more, there seems to be some serious struggle with the direction, the result being that none of the individual pieces of the show fit comfortably together. The script feels like a contemporary indie dramedy, and Toni Ellwand and Rachel VanDuzer are the most tuned in to that frequency as a modern mother and daughter preserving their sanity by alternating between dry barbs and tender gestures. The grandparents, portrayed by Anne Shepherd and Barry Birnberg, run wild by comparison, approaching the level of National Lampoon with their broad Jewish shtick. Alexander Franks attempts a schlubby, Patton Oswalt-esque approach to the role of the loser brother, but plays it too tame and gets lost among his costars.

The heavy reliance on awkward silences between stretches of dialogue only highlights how these disparate characters fail to connect.

Most frustrating is the complete non-ending. The characters arrive at their destination without having to change, confront any new information, or even make a decision, rendering the previous forty-five minutes of familial squabbling wholly impotent. I can’t help but feel that cutting one or two of the characters might have given the show a bit more breathing room to dig a bit deeper into the story.

The Ties That Bind and Gag spins all of its wheels madly, but doesn’t quite manage to get anywhere.


  • The Ties that Bind and Gag plays at the Factory Theatre Studio. (125 Bathurst St.)
  • Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
  • Content Warning: Mature language.
  • The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.


  • Friday July 6th, 1:15 pm
  • Saturday July 7th, 9:30 pm
  • Sunday July 8th, 1:00 pm
  • Tuesday July 10th, 4:30 pm
  • Wednesday July 11th, 11:15 pm
  • Thursday July 12th, 3:45 pm
  • Saturday July 14th, 8:00 pm


Photo of Rachel VanDuzer, Toni Ellwand, and Barry Birnberg by Stefan Delmedico