Presented by Preamble Productions
“A fast-paced, anything-goes live deconstruction of a playwright in crisis.”
I’m a sucker for intriguing taglines. It has frequently led me astray—into bland, over-hyped shows that don’t quite deliver on their tantalizing slogan. John Who, though, follows through on its high-concept promise.
When we first meet John (Ken Pak), the play proper hasn’t yet started. He ambles about the stage, pulling chairs out of the way of a mechanical toy clomping its way around. It loses its way, tripped up by random objects in its path: this image is understated yet striking and lodges an idea in our minds.
Working on his all-important “Last Play,” wrestling with the grand, fraught notion of legacy, he can’t quite pin down a story. The threads get lost. He is surrounded by his four muses. The inspiration they provide is, well, complicated. These attention-hungry, desperate-to-contribute aspects of his over-active mind provide comfort, encouragement, and distraction.
The ensemble—Julia Dyan, Kevin Forster, Adrian Griffin and Blythe Haynes—is quirky and purposeful. Each persona is distinct, their individual deals are clear and their collective dynamic is rich and layered.
They struggle to collaborate, often frustrating each other. Their colourful interactions are teeming with familiar snatches of dialogue and thematic riffs on everything from Anne of Green Gables and Peter Pan to Shakespeare. We gradually discover that are personalized manifestations of literary characters that have deeply affected John in youth.
John’s world is a blend of internal—his muses, and external—an artistic director waiting on his play and some doctors. It turns out his all-consuming writer’s block and increasingly worrisome forgettfulness might be symptoms of something more treacherous.
Stefan Dzeparoski’s direction gives the muses a lot of business—both solitary and integrated. It could have been cumbersome and distracting, but it is all astonishingly textured and persuasive.
Pak—who also penned this clever, poignant meditation on memory, artistry and resilience—is endearing throughout.