Daniel Pagett (left) and Andy Trithardt
BIG PLANS by Jeremy Taylor (Scapegoat Collective). Presented by the Storefront Arts Initiative at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West). Runs to September 20, Wednesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$35, September 9 pwyc. secureaseat.com. Rating: NNNN
Jeremy Taylor’s dark comedy Big Plans starts out as a simple dinner for two, maybe a first-date night.
And then it goes far away from the ordinary, especially given what – or who – is on the menu.
Gordon (Andy Trithardt) has written a personal ad seeking a well-built man willing to be slaughtered and eaten. The empty refrigerator is ready to be filled with appropriate body parts. The shy Henry (Daniel Pagett) shows up at Gordon’s door, though he doesn’t fit the bill in terms of body type.
Oh, and there’s an unexpected visit by Gordon’s mother (Maria Ricossa), who just happens to pop by.
It’s arguable that there’s another character, too: the audience, who are witnesses to what Gordon intends to do. He and the others regularly break the fourth wall to address us.
What follows, with the central narrative based on a true story, is an often funny evening of courting, backing-and-forthing, a discussion of sexual orientation and a few instances of potential gross-out activities.
Taylor adds another layer to the action, cleverly building in moments of magic realism and thoughts about reality and memory that give nuance to what we’re watching.
The success of the show lies in the chemistry between Trithardt and Pagett, excellent at defining their characters’ push-pull relationship, right down to the final moment of tenderness between this symbiotic pair. What they do is unusual, but we can easily understand their basic motivations and emotions.
Trithardt’s Gordon is alternately coaxing, demanding, charming and whiny, depending on his mood and focus on his culinary goal. He also plays the audience with skill, sharing philosophical thoughts with us and sometimes taking a viewer’s laugh and building it into the dramatic moment.
In Pagett’s hands, the initially nervous Henry finds freedom and peace, at least initially, in lots of wine and pain killers. We eventually learn he has a tragic back story, but not before we watch the “dinner” go through a wide variety of mood swings.
Director Kat Sandler, so skillful at helming her own scripts, here conducts the play’s rhythms with style, pacing the flow so that moments vibrate between the comic and the upsetting.
The only problem is Gordon’s condescending mother, who metaphorically runs her white-gloved finger over her son’s psyche and finds it far from clean. The hitch isn’t Ricossa’s chic performance but rather the use Taylor makes of the figure. Striking in her first few minutes onstage, the character unnecessarily makes her dramatic point several times over. Still, Ricossa has a few fine moments near the show’s end, coaxing out Henry’s history and helping wrap up the narrative.
The design team also contributes to the evening’s success, including Tim Lindsay, whose sound design underlines the action with some ironic romantic pop melodies, Jenna McCutchen’s set, in which the everyday can flow into the grotesque, and Melissa Joakim’s lighting, which helps define the jumps from one reality to another.
Big Plans offers a succulent comic evening, especially if your theatrical taste runs to the unusual.