>>> Review: Mockingbird

MOCKINGBIRD by Rob Kempson (timeshare). At.

MOCKINGBIRD by Rob Kempson (timeshare). At Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). January 9 at 8:30 pm, January 10 at 2 pm, January 12 at 9:15 pm, January 14 at 7:45 pm, January 15 at 5 pm, January 16 at 3:45 pm, January 17 at 4:15 pm. $15. 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com. Rating: NNNN

Mockingbird, Rob Kempson’s intriguing, entertaining play about student/teacher relationships and particularly a queer union, explores the friendships, opinions, politics and prejudices of a group of instructors in the “privacy” of the English teachers’ staff room.

The script offers a kaleidoscopic view of the rumours circulating around the school, focusing on an out gay teacher, Foster (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff), respected by most for his teaching skills but not necessarily for his outspoken views. Even his best female friend, Lee (Kaitlyn Riordan), is uncertain what to make of the gossip, which Foster compares to the prattling of a group of Grade 9s.

There’s also a teacher-teacher liaison that echoes the moral ambiguity of the key relationship, offering a counterpoint to the actions and consequences of following one’s physical and emotional impulses.

While writer/director Kempson examines what happens when love (or sometimes lust) wins out over logic, he also looks at the nature of teaching and the shifting nature of power and control in a school setting, whether it involves two people or a group. The play’s second half is nicely complex, characters offering their thoughts and sometimes judgments on how to deal with a touchy situation.

Opening night’s sometimes shaky pacing will settle down, but even in that performance the large ensemble cast – one of the most impressively multiracial you’ll see on a Toronto stage – showed their talent.

The actors include Andrew Pimento as the student at the centre of this academic maelstrom, Beau Dixon as a dangerously angry husband, Margaret Evans as an unpredictable principal, James Graham and Rahnuma Panthaky as a teacher candidate and his mentor, Andrew Moodie as a by-the-book union rep, Tess Degenstein as a protective guidance counselor, Esther Jun as a politically correct lesbian and Paula Wing as an experienced instructor whose lessons are both academic and warmly human.

Riordan offers especially fine work as the friend who doesn’t know Foster as well as she thinks. The sense of betrayal that washes over her face again and again during the course of the show is as unnerving as it is tragic.

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