Reviews - Fringe 2014

Fringe Review: Komunka

By Mackenzie Kristjon Jenkyns
Published July 24, 2014

Directed by Sky Gilbert and inspired by the real life stories of actor Yury Ruzhyev (who plays a "too cool for school" Russian businessman), this latest offering from Hammer Theatre addresses so many issues in such an interesting way that it's hard to know where to begin.

It is a little bit like watching a Woody Allen movie with (improvised) dialogue taking you in completely surprising directions. Anyone that has seen any recent world news will quickly see how this play addresses the Sochi Olympics, homosexuality and human rights, the Ukraine, Putin, and (!) the Malaysian plane that is all over the news.

They even snuck in Rob Ford as a tiny tribute to the massive fame and attention that he has achieved even on the other side of the planet.

Admittedly, I was eager to see this as I had never seen anything by Sky Gilbert but was aware of him initially because Bob Wiseman wrote a song about him last year ("mothface@yahoo.ca").

As a result, I contacted him to introduce Bob at his play Actionable last year. Ever since, I've been extremely curious to see something, and I have to admit that this play was one of the most interesting I've ever seen.

The concept is we are all sitting around a communal kitchen table where this cast of characters including a few gay men (two of which are in the closet), a heterosexual couple (in which the woman is clearly abused), and a matronly figure (played by Peggy Mahon) who had experienced many years in the arts and often pontificates on the value of Russian art.

She always plays Tchaikovsky records and finds ways to get to the truth of what the other characters are feeling -often to great comic effect.

Each couple had their own issues. There were two gay characters who were "just roommates" but dealing with their sexual issues in quite different ways - one wanting to fall in love and be part of the pride movement and the other content to keep it in the closet to achieve professional success.

The other couple were heterosexual and she worked (while longing for a better life) but still was picking up after her obnoxious and hilarious "former soccer star" layabout husband.

And then there was the man in the box...

One time I met a fellow who was keeping a live chicken in a cardboard box, which I discovered by carefully noticing this box occasionally shaking and making odd noises.

For most of the play, I had similar suspicions about this odd-shaped box at the WAHC! It turns out there is a refugee hiding out in there who is so happy to live this miserable life in a box that we can only imagine how horrid the state of affairs must be wherever he came from.

The characters various and competing longings and desires - whether for freedom, acceptance, or just another shot of vodka and a laugh - were utterly compelling and richly portrayed.

Mackenzie Kristjon is an Icelandic-Canadian singer-songwriter and all around creative force. He has published numerous books including the award-winning Culinary Saga of New Iceland. He also has roots in community radio at CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph. To hear/see/download his music, you can visit thismaddesire.bandcamp.com.

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