Are all young relationships really this analogous? Because The Howland Company’s 52 Pick-Up, written by TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi and directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia, is a frighteningly similar depiction of pretty much every romantic relationship I’ve ever had. There, I said it.
52 Pick-Up is divided into 52 scenes. The name of each scene is written on a deck of playing cards that both actors toss into the air at the beginning of the show, with the intent of picking up each card, one by one, and “telling a story” – sharing with the audience, and each other, a memory from their relationship.
From awkward first meetings to elongated phone conversations, tidal waves of passion to eruptions of anger, saying too much to saying too little and everything in between, this company nails it. Ruth Goodwin and Alex Crowther shine as the young couple, trying to put the pieces together and figure each other out. While the show is a little bit cheesy at times and slightly exaggerated at others, I would be fibbing if I said I didn’t know couples that acted exactly like this. This show reaches its arms out to the audience for a big group-hug, and the audience hugs it right back. They’ve been there. They get it.
The show that I viewed last night, however, may not be the same show that you view, Theatre Readers. Aside from the fact that the scenes are scrambled and played in a completely different order every night, The Howland Company has also incorporated four different sets of cast into this Toronto Fringe show, with different actors playing the couple on different days. Each couple gives the play their own unique spin, proving that just about anyone can identify with these romantic snippets.
I do think, however, that though this company succeeds in the factor of believability, several of the scenes really only scrape the surface of certain moments in this couple’s relationship. I worry that the reason why I am able to so closely identify with these characters is because some of the scenes are lacking depth. The scenes are fleeting moments – we are allowed to be the voyeurs, peering into the most private, intimate, beautiful and awful times in this relationship. While the brevity of a few scenes works well to ignite laughter amongst the audience, I am not fully convinced that the length of these scenes works. A five second scene about a boyfriend not being able to identify his girlfriend’s scarf as a scarf is funny, but so what? I want to know more. Everyone gets annoyed once in a while; these are familiar moments that audience members can relate to, but it would be much more intriguing to not only see ourselves in these everyday moments, but also see what is exceptionally unique to this specific couple. What do they have that no one else does? What do they do that’s completely absurd? Why does their story need to be told?
Despite my critique of the text, I must say, this show is definitely a fan favourite. It closed with a standing ovation, and as I walked out of the theatre I caught a couple of spectators wiping their tears. Safe to say, these moments are able to resonate with the audience members, regardless of their “short and sweet” nature. And between you and me, I was smiling the entire time.
52 Pick-Up is playing at the Tarragon Extra Space, as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, until July 13th. Actors that appear in other performances are as follows: Kristen Zaza & Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Hallie Seline & Cameron Laurie, James Graham & Paolo Santalucia. For more information, visit www.howlandcompanytheatre.com.