As a huge fan of Everybody Wants a T-Shirt, a hit at last year’s Fringe, I was brimming with anticipation for this latest collaboration between playwright/performer Madeleine Brown and director Aaron Jan. Their previous show was an astute yet whimsical satire that playfully skewered both the seductive and corrosive aspects of capitalism. Now, for this Toronto Fringe, they take us on a head-first, off-kilter dive into the world of journalism with News Play.
After losing a major publishing deal, two children’s book writers (and siblings), Joy (Charlin McIssac) and Phoebus (Greg Soloman), return to their hometown to reconnect with, and ultimately rescue, their pyromaniac cousin, Winny (Brown). Joy and Phoebus soon discover that her latest fire killed two newspaper reporters. Now Art (Andrew Cromwell), the editor of that paper, is blackmailing them. His demand? They must create content for his paper until he sells 100 issues.
To gain readership in a town where nothing newsworthy occurs, Joy and Phoebus create their own news. Discovering a human interest story goldmine in Winny, whom they toss into increasingly dangerous scenarios, they captivate the town with her heroic plight. Papers sell like mad and a conflict eventually arises over the practical and philosophical ramifications of her exploitation.
Hilarity ensues. Family tensions are revealed and resolved. Rouvan Silogix shows up as a bus! And we know he’s a bus because he’s labelled “bus” and goes “bus, bus, bus…”
This is the world of News Play.
It’s not a realistic world, made clear early on by Logan Raju Cracknell’s evocative set which offers up a storybook world of plastered newsprint and crudely formed props—lumpy objects hilariously labelled with their function.
Brown’s intelligent script is full of meaningful, resonant echoes. Like the children’s stories Joy and Phoebus once crafted, their own story feels like a fable. Jan’s kinetic and clever staging enhances these echoes. He has a gift for decidedly self-aware tableau that feel simultaneously goofy and eerily sincere.
As I adjusted to the absurdist aesthetic, I fell hard for these characters and their quirky charms. I was constantly surprised by some biting remark, odd gesture or gleaming insight. The performances are exaggerated, though this ensemble consistently finds the human truth in their campy antics.
Brown and Jan are masters of tone and concept, injecting sincerity and emotional resonance into their slightly absurdist, stylized productions. News Play is playful, precise and highly entertaining.