Kat Sandler's known for brash, fast-paced, dark-edged urban comedies produced by her company, Theatre Brouhaha, among them Help Yourself and Delicacy.
Her latest, Rock, presented by the Paper Scissors Collective, is full of fine comic performances and an intriguing plot. Ben (Andy Trithardt), an easy-going actor living with his girlfriend, Tasha (Jennifer Balen) and long-time friend and house guest, Mikey (Tim Walker), has found a strange calling: voices in his head tell him to bash certain people to death with rocks.
Though they initially fight Ben's impulse, Tasha and Mikey eventually go along with the vigilante work; all those killed seem to be of questionable morals and guilty of some sort of crime. What the two don't know is that Ben's first victim, Jefferson (Roger Bainbridge), is hanging around their house in ghostly form. Only Ben sees and hears him.
Sandler, who also directs, works clever humour into the story, not just in the relationships but also with some deft throwaway lines. Early in the play, one character mentions that Post-Its are by nature annoyingly passive-aggressive, in part because "they can't even commit to being a full piece of paper."
The actors often strike theatrical sparks, especially in the scenes between the needy Mikey and Ben and, later, Ben and Jefferson, who often appears in the chicken costume that brought him commercial fame.
The early episode where Ben drags Jefferson's body into the house and argues with Mikey about what to do with it is comic gold, in part because of the fine work by Trithardt and Walker, two of Toronto's best actors. The action becomes even more frantic and funny when Bainbridge's Jefferson becomes an unwanted and very vocal part of their plans.
Crazy, but it works. Especially when the housemates start sentimentalizing the rocks Ben uses to exterminate people, or when Jefferson and Ben develop a bromance - including shared clothes - that Ben has to keep hidden from the others.
There's good work, too, by Claire Armstrong, who enters late in the action as a potential partner for Mikey; her comic skills are apparent even in her few scenes.
The script, though, could use some editing, especially in the second act. Scenes go on longer than necessary, sometimes feeling milked for humour rather than focused on plot or character, and the ending needs tightening.
Still, there's lots to enjoy in Rock. The production at the StoreFront Theatre isn't a hard place to spend a couple of hours.
It's time for the New Groundswell Festival, Nightwood's annual celebration of contemporary women's theatre.
Beginning Friday (March 15), the fest's 10 days of productions, readings and workshops opens with a new work by Judith Thompson, Who Killed Snow White? Directed by Kelly Thornton, the show focuses on three generations of women who collide over their views of good, evil and the meaning of happily ever after.
It's followed by Adam's Rib (La Mémoire Du Corps/Body Memory), a devised, multidisciplinary piece by Montreal's Odelah Creations, headed by Arianna Bardesono and Christine Khalifah. The show looks at a modern Eve trying to understand herself in a world that wants to define her.
The final staged offering is Jennifer Overton's God's Middle Name, presented by Halifax's In Good Company, directed by Scott Burke. Its central figure is a mother raising an autistic child.
Also look for readings of new works by Suvendrini Lena, Susanna Fournier, Mary Vingoe (one of Nightwood's founders), Carmen Aguirre (co-presented with Alameda Theatre) and, as part of the Write From The Hip series spotlighting young artists, Leah-Simone Bowen and Clara Pasieka.
Other programming includes conversations with Vingoe and Aguirre and a solo show master class with Aguirre.
Included during the run of this year's Groundswell is FemCab, Nightwood's celebration of International Women's Day, now in its 30th year.
Shoshana Sperling hosts the March 20 event, featuring performances by filmmaker Min Sook Lee, DJ Cozmic Cat, writer/performer Diane Flacks, comedian Martha Chaves and others.
Two Canadian theatre artists, Peter Pasyk and Krista Jackson, have been tapped for important prizes.
Pasyk receives this year's Tarragon Urjo Kareda Residency Grant, which allows an emerging professional artist who's shown previous talent in the field to spend 20 weeks at the Tarragon developing her or his craft.
Pasyk, artistic director of surface/underground theatre, a dramaturgical collaborator with playwrights and a performer in his own right - he's currently part of the Laws Of Motion ensemble - will focus on the director's role in new play development and the relationship between direction and design.
Jackson, an actor who's turned to directing, is the recipient of the second Gina Wilkinson Prize; Wilkinson herself made the same move during her career. Artistic director of Winnipeg's zone41 theatre, Jackson spent last summer as part of the Neil Munro Intern Directors Project at the Shaw Festival.