Based on the synopsis of Murmurs in the Toronto Fringe Festival online program I was expecting a story – a monologue that focused on Drew Taylor and his relationship with his father. A tribute to his father; the tribute that Taylor didn’t deliver at his funeral.
It was a monologue, but it wasn’t a story. It was more a series of vignettes, anecdotes, asides, small stories, but no overarching one. Some involved Taylor’s father, some didn’t. Lee Taylor was a well-known actor in Vancouver from the 1950s until 2014. He died in 2016. Based on Taylor’s accounts, he was very focused on his career and not much of a family man.
Some of the vignettes were quite poignant. Taylor talks about the best times with his father being when he was seven. His father drove him to school. They didn’t talk; they listened to CBC Radio. Sometimes he helped Lee run lines. Then there was the one about how he auditioned for a part in a community theatre production because his father was directing it and it was a way to ‘spend time’ with him.
There were also stories that didn’t include Lee Taylor at all, or if they did, in a very peripheral way. These felt as if Taylor was stretching for the father reference.
There were three threads woven through the piece; Taylor and his father, Taylor without his father, and Taylor mentioning three authors who influenced his thinking. The asides about the authors didn’t seem to fit with the show. For me, it was a bit like ‘one of these things is not like the other’.
Taylor opened the show by singing James Taylor’s Fire and Rain and accompanying himself on a keyboard. The piano seemed too loud to me, especially compared to his singing which I could barely hear. It could have been a lovely moment to open with, but unfortunately, I found myself straining to catch the words.
The set was appropriately sparse; a keyboard, a whiteboard on an easel, and a battered U-Haul box on a three-legged table, all arranged roughly in a triangle. It tends to be important in solo shows to keep the set low-key to help keep the audience focused. Taylor did a good job of keeping things simple in this way.
His use of the set created a rhythm of sorts through the piece – As he ended an anecdote, Taylor would walk to the box, lean over, rifle through it, and come up holding something. Usually a photo of his father. It provided a bit of structure for the show.
Unfortunately, he often ended up speaking the final few words of the last sentence of his anecdote into the box, rather than to the audience. I would have liked to have seen him either finish the story before bending over or perhaps if he were facing the audience when he bent over the words wouldn’t get swallowed.
Taylor’s presentation felt fairly low key overall. There were often times I found myself wishing for something a bit stronger. Then, near the end, he did a speech from a play he had been in. It was in verse. Wow! Big strong voice! He has the chops. That’s what I was missing.
The overall impression I had was that this is a work in progress. As it is, both the script and performance feel a bit unfocused. The contrast in confidence between the speech that I assume Taylor worked with a director on (given it was from a play he has been in), and the other parts of the play was striking. He obviously has it in him to deliver a commanding performance. But this show had moments of discreet script checking, swallowed lines and just a general feeling of not being in the moment.
There is no director listed for Murmurs, so I assume that this piece was is written, stars and is self-direct by Drew Taylor. I truly believe that every show needs a director and someone to edit down the script. Often when it’s a small production a director does both. It’s a vital step in development. This piece is no different.
It needs a director and editor. Someone to take an impartial look at the material and see works and what doesn’t. There’s some really good stuff in here that a director could draw out and bring focus to.
As the piece is developed further I’d like to see an overarching focus on Taylor and his relationship with his father. Murmurs would feel much stronger to me with the individual stories weaving into one thread, or at least theme, rather than a series of discrete pieces. It will be interesting to see what Taylor does with the show in the future.
- Murmurs plays at the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- 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 (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: mature language; not recommended for children.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. Check in at the venue box office at least 15 minutes before showtime, and a staff member will escort you to the venue. Accessible seating is in the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 10th, 4:45 pm
- Friday July 12th, 10:30 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 3:15 pm
Photo provided by the company