SMALL RETURNS by Jacob Richmond, directed by Michael Kessler, with Tom Barnett, John Cleland, Rosemary Dunsmore, Deborah Hay, Randy Hughson and Jordan Pettle. Presented by Jack in the Black in association with Theatre Passe Muraille at Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Runs to December 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $25-$34, Sunday pwyc-$16. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It takes balls to call your new play Small Returns . Imagine the puns we clever critics would concoct if the show didn't deliver.
But playwright Jacob Richmond and director Michael Kessler aren't easily dismissed. The talented team behind 2001's fine debut The Qualities Of Zero is trying out something different here. It's too bad they're experimenting on the mainstage of Passe Muraille and not at a workshop series, which is where this play really belongs.
Jordan Pettle plays Point Five, a seriously injured man who's joined a debt-collection agency. His first job is to reclaim a TV set from the mentally disturbed Abbey ( Deborah Hay ), a woman who, it turns out, he knew from school. He's also called on to retrieve a prosthetic leg from Frida ( Rosemary Dunsmore ), a crafty old children's book writer.
Lending him a helping hand or advice are fellow collectors Nate ( Randy Hughson ), an old leftie, and Roddy ( Tom Barnett ), a guy obsessed with his Irish heritage. And presiding over many scenes is a mysterious military figure played by John Cleland .
The sprawling show needs tightening - and more confident direction. It's not clear whether Point Five is alive or dead, and Richmond doesn't exploit the metaphor of collecting debts. For all their charm, Hughson and Barnett's characters aren't fully integrated into the show.
The actors are watchable, particularly Dunsmore. But Richmond never figures out what he wants to say. Is this a quirky romance between two misfits? An existential dark comedy?
One thing's clear. He's obviously nostalgic for old notions of romance, which explains the sentimental and totally unearned pat endings he provides for his play's two acts.