Toronto Fringe Review: Wasteland
There’s a lot of big things that a little show like Wasteland talks about.
Think about all the awesome works of post-apocalyptic media that have come out in recent years. The badass heroes. The stunning landscapes of a dead world. The stunning visuals make it the perfect subject for film, right? There’s no way that a theatre troupe could pull off that kind of story live on stage, right? Wrong.
Wasteland is the latest venture by Toronto group Sex T-Rex, a company of comedians and all-around show-offs. Local Toronto residents will know the group from their improv shows around the city, most recently their D&D Live series at Bad Dog Theatre. Although based mostly in improv, Wasteland represents a recent endeavor into scripted comedy. Don’t worry, though – it’s just as hilarious, and high-energy and candid as their unscripted works.
This story sets itself apart immediately from other works of post-apocalyptic fiction. While most settings follow the exploits of unbreakable heroes like Max Rockatansky or Rick Grimes, here we follow… Ernest, a janitor at the villainous Compound. Along with a talking dog, he is thrusted into an adventure to find the mysterious broadcaster of Graceland Radio, a station that provides the only hope for the Toronto-ish wasteland.
It is simple in concept, but ridiculously fun in execution. With a lot of discipline for physical theatre and stage combat, and even more heart, we are taken through the ins and out of a wrecked world and how people survive in it. The teamwork and skill of Sex T-Rex give us epic car chases, battles atop radio towers and more, with just a few smartly-placed props.
There are some unexpected twists and turns in the story, which further place it as truly unique within its genre. In spite of some shockers, though, they still have the courage to give us a happy ending, and one that the characters have clearly fought for.
It is also worth mentioning just how much this show has its finger on the pulse of many cultural anxieties, both local and abroad. Things like watching the American election feels more like watching the Hunger Games or Death Race at this point. Or more locally, there is the fact that this year’s Fringe is a historic one, as it will be the last operating alongside Honest Ed’s. Those who know local history will know the role the Mirvishes played in sculpting local culture. It is something that is at risk as the historic store is set to close by next year and be replaced with more god damn condos. Watching this play by Sex T-Rex made me reflect on whether our city is headed for a cultural Wasteland of sorts, by way of being dwarfed by massive, gentrified homes. Although entertainment is a means of escapism, good art can also be a powerful teacher and remind us of real-life problems.
The entire cast is impressive, although Conor Bradbury as Ernest is of particular interest as the hero and straight man of the tale. His performance is heartfelt and relatable with hidden depths. His co-star Kaitlin Morrow also deserves praise as Boy, the talking dog that accompanies him. She understands the funny nuances of dog behaviour without it being confusing or feeling like a Disney film. Is she a dog who acts like a person or vice versa? We won’t spoil the answer, but her performance understands that theatre can use the meta-physical.
What you will find in Wasteland is Sex T-Rex at its finest. With excellence in script writing, physical performance and comedy, along with the odd jab at ourselves as Canadians, it’s not hard to see why the troupe has become a local favourite.
Wasteland plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. Information and tickets can be found on the Fringe website or at the venue box office.