peep show conceived and directed by Kelly Thornton, with Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Brad Brackenridge, Ian Carpenter, Leanne Dixon, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Salvatore Migliore, Shoshana Sperling, Carly Street, Jamie Robinson and Clinton Walker. Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to October 21, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Tuesday and Sunday matinee pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN
peep show gets full marks for originality and ambience. There is no show like it, nor will there be soon. But given its ambitions, it succeeds only to a point. No, it's not pretending to be a traditionally well-written play, but a more compelling text could have made it even more vivid.Conceived and directed by Kelly Thornton, the work -- part circus funhouse, part performance art -- introduces us to nine characters (I'm sure the number is symbolic on many levels) trapped in their obsessions and doomed to live them out forever.
After walking through a creepy red-curtained hallway, we're introduced to a mysterious blind proprietress cum prophetess (Ruth Madoc-Jones) who says a few poetic things, points out the characters and lets us wander around and spy on these sad souls' lives.
Of course, there are thematic links among the scenarios. Everyone seems obsessed with something sexual, whether it's Brad Brackenridge's man-with-two-penises former porn star, Jamie Robinson's artist who sculpts vaginas or Shoshana Sperling's trailer-dweller who wants "closeness" from her butchered husband.
Thornton is obviously playing on our appetite for lurid stories and quick-fix recipes, and making the point, like photographer Diane Arbus before her, that, yes, we're implicated in this human freak show.
On a deeper level, though, we're forced to examine how we find meaning around us. It's a semiotic sideshow.
The strongest element of the piece is Sherri Hay and Steve Lucas's design. Sounds burrow into the subconscious, entire worlds and eras are evoked, and there's a delight in being able to discover, touch and feel props, prompting us to rethink the idea of theatre.
Unfortunately, the writing -- out of the performers' mouths or in texts accompanying some of the installations -- fails to match the visual component. A fake Time magazine story on the double-donged man, for instance, fails as parody or imitation. And some of the scenarios feel less rich than others.
Peep Show's worth a look. And another. But don't think too much.