This entry is cross-posted with blogTO.com.
Atomic Vaudeville's Legoland is very good.
I would normally try to open this review with something a bit more clever. But anything I could come up with would pale next to the creativity, wit and sheer enthusiasm of this excellent play. It is a weird and warm-hearted piece of theatre, and you should go see it. Tonight, if you can.
Legoland, part of Theatre Passe Muraille's Festival of Four Plays, tells the story of Penny Lamb and her brother, Ezra. The siblings, raised in the bucolic idealism of a Saskatchewan hippie commune, are suddenly forced to reckon with the cruel shallowness and hypocrisy of "Legoland"- the name given to the modern world by their aquarian parents. The whole thing is structured as a public service presentation, enriched with a deft use of puppetry, music and movement.
Jacob Richmond's script is funny and impressively original. He takes a theatrical device in danger of becoming a cliche- the "presentation show" a la The Noam Chomsky Lectures- and manages to make it seem fresh and vibrant. His characters capture the giddy intensity of childhood, and the play's sweet sentimental core never becomes cloying.
As the Nietzsche-quoting, drug-dealing Ezra, Amitai Marmorstein does a superb job of painting the scene around the central narrative. He also delivers a hilarious gangsta rap, and his puppetry skills are surprisingly sophisticated . As Penny, Celine Stubel is absolutely riveting. Her intensity and physical precision makes for an incredible performance. Being a teenage girl is all about full-throttle emotion, and Stubel nails it.
Legoland occasionally goes for the easy gag, and this causes the energy to fall a little flat in some segments. The play also feels a little over-produced. There are a lot of lighting and sound changes for a 60 minutes production, and it all gets a little tiring. With actors this good, constant shifts in light and soundtrack to create new environments aren't needed. Stubel and Marmorstein can do a lot of this heavy-lifting on their own.
Minor criticisms aside, Legoland is a great story, expertly told. It's originality and creative ambition makes it quite unlike anything I've seen onstage in a long while. And I think you'll probably feel the same way.
Legoland continues at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until December 6th. For more info and tickets, visit Artsboxoffice.ca.
Photo: Amitai Marmorstein and Celine Stubel. By Aviva Armour-Ostroff