‘The Jungle’ is “heartfelt, heavy, moving and funny”.
The Jungle premiered last night at Tarragon Theatre and it was a punch to the gut: very real and very much told with eyes wide open. Billed as a Toronto love story between an immigrant from Moldova and the son of Chinese immigrants, it wrestled with what it really means to be working class, and if getting ahead is systemically possible in a capitalist society.
Written by Anthony MacMahon and Thomas McKechnie, The Jungle is inspired by the revelatory 1906 novel of the same name by American writer Upton Sinclair. In 1904, Sinclair spent six months undercover in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, where he bore witness to inhumane and unsanitary working conditions for factory workers. He recorded his observations in his novel, and public outcry following publication led to the passing of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.
On stage at Tarragon, The Jungle told a more contemporary tale of enduring socioeconomic struggles. Veronyka (played by Shannon Currie) and Jack (Matthew Gin) meet one fateful night. They both work relentlessly around the clock: she works day shifts in a factory and night shifts in a bar, and he’s a cab driver, endlessly chasing fares.
Despite their sheer exhaustion, somehow, a love story unfolds. It isn’t always the most romantic love story, but it gives them both sustenance and some tiny semblance of a financial safety net. No matter how many hours they work, the barriers preventing them from upward socioeconomic mobility seem impenetrable. A life of leisurely pursuits, of exploring one’s curiosities and passions seems, truly, a world away.
As the only two actors on stage throughout the show, Currie and Gin are both passionate, playful and spirited. Expertly directed by Guillermo Verdecchia, the show managed to be heartfelt, heavy, moving, and funny. There is, despite the feeling of inescapable poverty, humour and tenderness.
This show feels like something that urgently needs to be seen, particularly as the 2019 Canadian federal election draws near. It is a sobering reminder of the impact our economic and political systems have on our (in)ability to move between socioeconomic classes. It moved me and kept me thinking, long after curtain call. I want to bring my circle of family and friends, and spread the word to others. Moreover, I want to remind everyone that election day is October 21st, and to exercise your right to vote.
- The Jungle runs until November 3, 2019 at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm, and Wednesday at 1pm
- Tickets range from $22 – $70 and can be purchased online, by phone at 416-531-1827, or in-person at the box office. Discounts are available for arts workers, students, patrons under 35, seniors, and groups.
- The show runs approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes
Photo of Shannon Currie and Matthew Gin by Cylla von Tiedemann