Lost Kid Theatre tries to engage with complex themes in Tooth: Hurty, but the heaviness of the script coupled with a mise-en-scene that seems to prioritize movement and physicality over its text makes this show one to digest slowly over time.
Wes, a homeless man, grabs the attention of passer-by Maya, who may or may not be a prostitute. As Wes pulls us into his story we see how destructive ideals of masculinity break down boys instead of of building them up into stronger, better men. Frequent flashbacks show a young Wes trying to understand how to manage his emotions and behaviour around his desperately macho father, whose homophobia borders on obsession. Wes is especially fixated on the time his father removed one of his teeth through a particularly unorthodox method, and through the flashbacks we build up to that eventful day.
The play however asks more questions than it answers. Why does Maya continue talking to Wes after it’s become obvious that he is not all there mentally (for her to walk away would be unkind, but realistic)? What else had to happen for Wes to end up on the street besides having an abusive parent? These questions in particular are aimed at the script, which, to be fair
, is an adaptation of a play by British playwright Abi Morgan (though Lost Kid’s press release strangely omits the name of the play; a cursory Google search reveals nothing with the same title as this production). is a brand new creation by Feghali and Bailey and could certainly benefit from a little more development.
Related more to the production itself, the staging takes bold choices without giving much solid reason for them. As the lights come up at the top of the show Maya paces around the performance space while Wes stands in the middle and alters the chalk lines drawn on stage, but no explanation is ever given for why those chalk lines are there or what significance they hold for Wes. There are some movement sequences toward the end that are wonderfully choreographed (for director Feghali synchronized movements are a particular strength) and raise the tone of the show to a more aesthetically-driven piece where the relationship between reality and the script is less of an issue. These movement moments however only account for less than five minutes of the hour-long running time – more movement sequences would better contextualize what is already there.
Performers Sam Dietrich and Lydia Riding navigate the winding, self-consciously poetic script admirably. Their previous work with Feghali (on POOL: NO WATER at the University of Ottawa last year) informs their performances well, particularly their movements and the ability to snap in and out of very different moments. Dietrich does slightly better in this last regard than Riding, but he only has to switch between the same character at different ages rather than Riding who has to switch between two very different characters (Riding adopting some sort of codified gesture to mark the transition would easily fix this difficulty).
The main puzzling point about Tooth: Hurty is that its message is unclear: the subject matter pertaining to toxic masculinity is topical, but its treatment here doesn’t offer a new perspective on the matter beyond “homophobia is bad and people who militantly push an anti-LGBT agenda probably aren’t worth your time.” The description for this show on the Fringe website mentions “the stifled female voice” and while this absolutely pertains to Maya, who never gets much a chance to talk about herself, barely any time is spent on female identity or politics: Wes’ dad is concerned with Wes having stiff wrists at all times but the subject of girls never comes up. So much attention is heaped on Wes’ story that the omission of Maya’s seems more like a practical choice than an artistic one. If Maya’s lack of development is a statement on the stifled female voice, then perhaps the production could better draw attention to the discrepancy between Wes’ and Maya’s developments as characters. As it is, Tooth: Hurty is an ambitious project that doesn’t quite make the statement it tries to.
[Editor’s Note: the original publication of this review had noted that this play was an adaptation and the director has since clarified that it is, in fact, an original text]
[Editor’s Note 2: there is a mistake in the media kits that has the show description for ‘Tiny Dynamite’ included in the show brief for Tooth: Hurty. We apologize for any confusion]
A Lost Kid Theatre production
Created by Damien Bailey and Pamela Feghali
Performed by Sam Dietrich and Lydia Riding
At Studio Léonard-Beaulne (Venue 3)
Saturday 10 June 8:00pm
Sunday 11 June 2:30pm
Wednesday 14 June 9:30pm
Saturday 17 June 6:00pm
Sunday 18 June 3:30pm