Emilia Di Luca
I’ve never sat so close to an actor playing a serial killer. He eyes his blissfully unaware victim with barely a gleam of sweat on his brow. Meanwhile, my fingers tremble from the sheer fear of his body next to mine. There’s a first time for everything.
My first time at The Box Toronto, a new performance space, introduced me to Christian Canterbury’s chilling Freeway Strangler. In association with Straeon FilmWorks Inc., Jock MacDonald co-directs this dark, kooky comedy with Chris Whitby. Despite the play’s title, not one character acknowledges the “freeway strangler”—not once. If anything, the title sounds more like the play’s subplot.
Freeway Strangler zooms in on the troubled lives of Pam (Vikki Velenosi), Mark (Craig Thomas), Chris (Altair Vincent), and Amy (Dony Lugo). All these characters share one dream: to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. While each aspiring actor kills another’s happiness, Glenn (Scott McCallum) just kills, literally.
The tension between these ambitious characters violently swirls in the box theatre. The intimate space both helps and hinders the performance. In fact, the space enlivens the play despite its character and plot gaps.
Freeway Strangler claims to blend Clueless, Seinfeld, and Clue. The mixture of comedy and murder proves to be dead accurate and strangely good. There’s the twisted plot of Clue and the humour of Seinfeld; however, I am clueless as to why the only reference to the serial killer comes from a voiceover, twice. Canterbury’s underdeveloped characters and sketchy storylines are questionable, unlike the acting. The acting is unquestionably superb.
The ensemble grips the audience with fear, sympathy, and comedy. No need for an elaborate lighting design. The close proximity between the audience and action shines a spotlight on the actors’ talents. The cast has the challenge of playing to the audience; Lugo even picks on specific spectators in the second act. She draws her gun and points it—toward me. This begs the question: what’s too close for comfort?
The co-directors seat their audience in four corners surrounding the performance space, mainly occupied by a bed. At times, the theatre gets hot, especially between tedious transitions. Nonetheless, the range of perspective offers a buffet for the audience’s eyes; yet, sometimes the lack of detail left me hungry. If I’m close enough to see Pam’s dinner, there should be a real salad on her plate, not four leaves.
The circle seating, however, had me constantly checking my back. After all, the serial killer could open the door right next to me at any minute. And when he did, I was too close to see the dramatic stage picture, but so close I could feel his breath.
Despite the stuffy room, Freeway Strangler still gave me chills.
Freeway Strangler runs until June 8th at The Box Toronto. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/688046.