Irene gets Mad by Natasha Boomer, directed by Boomer and Daniel Shehori, with Boomer, Matt Wilson, Vanessa AvRuskin, Meghan Campbell and Craig Lauzon. Presented by Daniel Shehori at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). July 29-31, Thursday-Friday 10 pm, Saturday 10:30 pm. $10. 416-343-0011.
I'll never forget my first Natasha Boomer experience. It's a few years ago at the Tim Sims, and the large-sized, dimpled Boomer is singing the song Tomorrow, from the musical Annie. Yuck, right?
Wrong. Boomer begins sweetly - she's got the pipes - but soon starts losing it, whimpering and sobbing the lyrics until by the final notes she's screaming and kicking her legs uncontrollably on the floor.
It was the perfect comedy routine - full of humour because it suggested all the pain beneath the surface.
"I know pain - boy, do I know pain," laughs Boomer today, as her latest play opens tonight (July 29) at that same theatre.
"I've never been a funny ha-ha comic. I've always been someone you can relate to because I recognize pain. My coping mechanism is comedy."
That same empathy went into her 2002 play with music, Lovers! Take Your Mark, a funny yet poignant look at love lost, won and obsessed over. The play was so sparsely attended, it made Boomer give up entertaining for two years, despite the fact that it later showed up on my list of the top 10 comedy shows of that year.
"Nobody came, and that frustrated me," she says. "I spent four years going to other people's shows, making friends, and only a few people I knew showed up."
In Boomer's Irene Gets Mad, she plays the title character, the angry 25-year-old middle of three sisters. Why is she angry? Mostly because she's never been kissed.
"When I first wrote the script I was too angry to see the humour in it. I was living it. But now I see where it's funny. At heart it's about family. You know the secrets that can hurt your siblings, but you also have this unconditional love and acceptance."
Boomer's got her family's all-out support, even though she was politely asked to move out of her small-town Ontario home at 19. Why? Because she was floundering, had no direction and was full of anger.
A stint studying at Second City gave her confidence, and that led to exploring all aspects of comedy, including stand-up, which in retrospect was psychically damaging.
"I weighed 260 pounds and was doing stand-up that was extremely self-deprecating. I was going up onstage every night and telling the world what a crappy person I was," she says.
Now, 80 pounds lighter but with much more experience under her belt, she sees no end in sight.
"There are no fat jokes in this play. I'm really proud of that."