Review: Mustard

Kat Sandler's brightly coloured family farce delivers some laughs, but it lacks focus

MUSTARD by Kat Sandler (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). Runs to March 13. $28-$60, rush $15. 416-531-1827. See listing. Rating: NNN

Kat Sandler’s jaw must have dropped when she saw the Pixar film Inside Out and the character of Bing Bong, the goofy-looking imaginary friend still holding on to a growing child.

The title character of Sandler’s new play is also a goofy-looking imaginary friend with abandonment issues. Mustard (Anand Rajaram) lives beneath the bed of 16-year-old Thai (Rebecca Liddiard), who’s dealing with some pretty adult issues, like her mother Sadie’s (Sarah Dodd) alcoholism and impending divorce and a relationship with a 20-year-old university student named Jay (Paolo Santalucia) that’s about to get more complicated.

Outfitted in Michael Gianfrancesco’s brightly coloured costume, complete with red jester’s cap, Mustard is out of his league dealing with Thai’s problems. He’s outgrown his usefulness, which is probably why  two hoodlums (Tony Nappo and Julian Richings) from his alternate universe are tracking him down and forcing him to retire.

Sandler’s writing has a breezy, pop-culture-savvy feel to it, whether she’s having her characters add Pop Rocks to champagne or letting them discuss the logistics of fairy tale characters. Her people are fun to hang out with.

But this work feels less focused than some of Sandler’s Fringe plays. Nappo and Richings are fine in roles they frequently play in film, but there are too many moments of their Tarantino-esque baddies bickering about spelling and grammar. And hapless suitor Jay has little to do.

Mustard’s metaphoric meaning never resonates. Is the play about the loss of innocence? The absurdity of modern life? I’m not sure Sandler or director Ashlie Corcoran have thought this through.

Still, there’s lots of fun in watching this dysfunctional family comedy happen on Gianfrancesco’s intentionally cramped, naturalistic set.

And there’s a quirky quality to the scenes between Mustard and Sadie, who strike up an odd friendship. Rajaram gets to show both the happy and sad sides of his clown, while Dodd, given the most difficult role, suggests a woman with a complex backstory who once had dreams of her own.

When they’re both onstage, this Mustard heats up.

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