The DARTCritics recently travelled to the Tarragon Theatre to see the world premiere of Canadian playwright Daniel McIvor’s newest play: Cake and Dirt. Here’s what our critics thought of this send up of Toronto’s elite:

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Andrew Godin writes:

Start with three cups of alcohol, beat in a ghost story, cover it in icing, and a sprinkle it with cocaine and you have Daniel MacIvor’s new play.

Cake and Dirt, directed by Amiel Gladstone, takes place in present day Toronto, and surrounds the lives of the high class. Narrated by Riley, (Bethany Jillard), the play starts by promising the audience a ghost story. The play then begins the day after a birthday party, revealing the events from the previous night through dialogue. This story technique lead to a predictable but absorbing story where we get to know how the characters interpret an event in their lives before getting to see what really happened for ourselves.

Every actor who set foot on stage seemed to be enjoying the drama of the characters as much as the audience. Maggie Huculak delivers a stand out performance as Bryn, managed to balance the role Riley’s mother, and a drunk with no life outside of opening and finishing a bottle of wine or champagne. Her tipsy and irritable portrayal of the character was infuriating in all of the right ways, leaving the audience torn between loving and hating the character.

The set, designed by Kimberly Purtell, was simple but managed to create an atmosphere that helped bring the audience into the world of downtown Toronto. With the entire set on wheels, the stage was able to transform from a concrete park adorned with dying saplings into a high-class apartment building in a matter of seconds. Coupled with Verne Good’s hip-hop soundtrack, this created a clear view of MacIvor’s Toronto.

Despite being an entertaining show, there were some problems with the story. The play was only ninety minutes in length, which isn’t always a bad thing, but with this specific production it felt unfinished due to an ending that falls flat. The scenes leading up to the finale had introduced many characters that we started to grow fond of. The ‘climax’ is a scene between Riley and Jason (Patrick Kwok-Choon), who had been absent for majority of the play. It felt as though the peak of the action had come too early, and that there was more of the show which had been cut out in development. Ending the show with two characters the audience hasn’t had time to care about made the climax less effective than the previous parts of the show.

As much as the audience loved watching a self-destructive family wander through their pointless lives, it left them wanting more. With the addition of one more scene that introduces the characters of Riley and Jason more in depth, the ending could have much more of an impact. If MacIvor decides to continue working with this production, I’m sure that he will be able to create a conclusion that is as powerful, if not more, as the majority of this play.

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Anthony Kuchar writes:

Plays about political intrigue and current events are as old as classical Greek theatre. From Oedipus to the likes of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and beyond, audiences have always found an intense interest in the private lives of the rich and powerful. Even plays about a relatively powerless person like Miller’s Death of a Salesman are still (able to provoke a response out of audiences for their voyeuristic inspection of other people’s lives). As my grandmother once said after seeing Miller’s play “I felt like I was a peeping Tom!”.

This is also how I felt watching Daniel MacIvor’s new play. Cake and Dirt is about the night of and day after a wealthy lawyer’s birthday party, for which he gets exceedingly drunk. It’s also about his adult daughter who is pretending to go to school and may be falling off the wagon into her drug habit; his wife who is becoming more embarrassed at his drunkenness as the night goes on; and his ex-wife who may still have feelings for him — or may just want sex. And on top of all of this is the Greek housekeeper and the next-door neighbour, Councillor Flip-Flop.

Sounds like a premise for a wacky sitcom, right? Well think again. This is a darkly relevant play that exposes what happens behind the closed doors of the Toronto establishment. Premiering at Tarragon Theatre, this is MacIvor’s first work for the company since his 2012 play Was Spring. In the hands of a lesser playwright this complicated script could have become a bloated or choppy mess, flipping and flopping from melodrama to political intrigue.. But as written by the trained and seasoned MacIvor, it flourishes as a well-crafted story, showing the intermingling of six lives that are all connected in some way.

As much as the show is about the inner workings of Toronto, it is also about the city’s outer public face — and the disconnection between the two. Councillor Flip-Flop (Patrick Kwok-Choon) – a slick-talking, cocaine-using, corrupt politician who makes his decisions on advice from his rich mother – could easily be a stand in for any number of famous politicians. Rob Ford and his drug use comes to mind, but I also see hints at others, such as former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion and her son Peter who where at the centre of a $7 million conflict of interest inquiry back in 2010 about his construction business.

Daniel MacIvor’s play is directed wonderfully by Amiel Gladstone who is able to coax compelling and realistic performances from the actors. This is an important work that should be of interest to anyone living in Toronto.

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Photo: Jeremie Warshafsky

Katie Coseni writes:

Cake and Dirt by Daniel MacIvor promised to be an exciting and disturbingly close look at what life in Toronto really is, but instead ended up leaving a dirty taste in the mouths of the audience.

The show follows a stereotypical broken family through a drunken birthday party, starting out with the morning after the party, then going back in time to show how everyone got to where they are. With shallow, uninteresting characters and laughably obvious foreshadowing to the “big twist” at the end, Cake and Dirt had me questioning why I should care about anything onstage rather than why things in the city are as bad as they are.

Daniel MacIvor had stated that this show would be outside of his normal writing style, and it truly was – as MacIvor is normally a good writer. The show is sprinkled with seemingly major issues – such as the daughter figure (Bethany Jillard) having a history of drug abuse – but these are never returned to, nor are they explained in any way, shape or form. In fact, it seems as though MacIvor throws around drug use just for the hell of it, and never once calls attention to the very real, very frightening problem that drugs can be in modern Toronto life. The “shocking” and “tragic” murder of Jillard at the end of the show could be seen coming after the first five minutes of opening dialogue, and was so ridiculous I was more excited that the show was finally almost over than concerned for her character. Each character was written as a problematic and, at times, highly offensive stereotype – with no attempt to show anything deeper. The Greek housekeeper (played by Maria Vacratsi) was downright racist, and Vacratsi seemed to almost willingly play the “other-than-white, matronly servant” role that has no place in modern theatre. David Storch added a little bit of comedy as the drunken Father – but, unfortunately, is unable to add anything more than that.

The saving grace in this uninteresting and disorganized piece was the set design by Kimberly Purtel, and the sound design by Verne Good. The set was beautifully envisioned, transforming the stage flawlessly from lavish, rich apartments to the dingy, coke-infested outdoors. Verne Good’s use of modern hip-hop added a much-needed taste of Toronto’s night life.

All in all, Cake and Dirt was nothing like what we were promised. Unfortunately, Daniel MacIvor seems to have missed his mark – this show seems more like a fussy suburban teenager throwing a tantrum than a thoughtfully constructed statement about life in Toronto.




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