Poochwater by Mike McPhaden, directed by Patrick Conner, with McPhaden and Jeff Miller. Presented by the Poochwater Collective in association with Theatre Passe Muraille at the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to February 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, Sunday pwyc-$16. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Reviewing a play like poochwater is frustrating, because - like the characters who alternately lose and find themselves in Mike McPhaden's poignant and provocative work - easy labels don't fit.
Call it a drama and you're not wrong. Its examination of identity, paranoia and hopefulness resonates within a deceptively simple story of two war vets who meet in a rundown apartment in 1950s Detroit.
McPhaden's writing is so truthful that in a scene set in the dark, where conversation is spoken only in Morse code, the audience doesn't need to know dit-dit-dit from dat-dat-dat to feel the bond forming between former adversaries Man 1 (McPhaden) and Man 2 ( Jeff Miller ).
Describe it as comedy and you're also on the mark. The script crackles with wit and brilliant turns of phrase (one man correcting the other, saying he's "a raving lunatic, not a roving one" is a fave), yet like all good comedy, the humour comes from mining larger and darker themes.
McPhaden's amnesiac is entertaining when enthusiastically recalling an afternoon spent singing to daffodils. But you have to wonder what kind of pain forces a person to block out an entire life.
So forget defining Poochwater.
Instead enjoy the assured direction of Patrick Conner , who keeps us in suspense through each twist and turn, and the revelatory performances by Miller, whose manic energy is a welcome addition to this latest staging, and McPhaden, a perfect blend of childlike naíveté and unrestrained delight.
The only label worth using? Excellent.