Munch (clockwise, from top left), Van Wieren, Shields, Moss and Trithardt bite into savagely good script.
SUCKER written and directed by Kat Sandler (Blood Sweat & Blood Collective). At the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West). To November 9. $20. secureaseat.com. See listings. Rating: NNNN
After wowing SummerWorks audiences with Delicacy, an intense drama about Toronto's swinger scene, writer Kat Sandler keeps the hits coming with a new dark comedy about coping with loss.
The macabre storyline - just in time for Halloween - follows a pair of 20-something siblings, Beth (Jessica Moss) and Jamie (Andy Trithardt), both dealing oddly with the accidental death of their parents. Beth has become a wannabe vampire (but is struggling to acquire a taste for blood), and Jamie has decided to convert to Judaism and become a rabbi. Sharing their parents' large old house, the siblings engage in quirky ribbing that soon leads each to question the other's transformation. Their schism soon involves Beth's mysterious, middle-aged tenant, Constance (Astrid Van Wieren), and teenaged mall goth Aenth (G. Kyle Shields).
Sandler's writing is sharp throughout, giving the best TV comedies a run for their money. Cute and nerdy jokes generate solid chuckles, and a few hilarious moments (no spoilers here) set off show-stopping waves of laughter. This humour is expertly woven through more disturbing material about exsanguination, lost children and the grieving process, culminating in some emotional and seriously moving scenes about evolving notions of family and identity. At times, audible sobs from the audience were converted to laughs and back again in a matter of seconds.
Directing the action at a quick clip, Sandler uses the realistic and densely decorated living room and kitchen set well. One surreal element, a full-sized camping tent that Jamie sets up in the living room, is employed in novel ways, especially as a makeshift confessional.
The cast is uniformly strong, and Trithardt generates believable sibling chemistry with Moss and titillating sexual tension with Van Wieren's odd-ball widow. Aside from the main storyline, a recurring gag involves Carter (Colin Munch), a hopelessly insensitive lawyer who constantly stumbles over his poor choice of words while visiting bereaved families. Munch dials up the awkward and cringe-inducing dialogue to the max, creating an unlikely breakout character that could easily be spun off into another comedy.
While Delicacy proved that Sandler could keep a serious drama funny, Sucker shows that she's also able to make a weirdo comedy profoundly meaningful. This impressive range puts her among T.O.'s most intriguing new playwrights.