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CHILD-ISH: Effervescence

by | Feb 18, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

I love this show, everything about it. And I strongly encourage you to see it.

For CHILD-ish, Toronto playwright Sunny Drake interviewed 41 kids over a period of years. He also invited the kids to interview one another. And they interviewed him. The result is an effervescent combination of innocence, insight, and sophistication.

The opening section of the script — maybe about 25 minutes? — had me rolling, laughing harder than I have in months.

In Pacific Theatre’s premiere production, six grown-up actors all wear grey suits that emphasize their adulthood. (Brian Ball designed the set and costumes.) Sara Vickruck plays Sunny, as I’ll refer to the playwright character in the show, and the other five all voice the words of the children. To be clear, they’re not imitating kids, they’re speaking straightforwardly.

But it’s still partly the oddness of young people’s words coming out of adults’ mouths that makes the opening material so hilarious. Actor Craig Erickson’s deadpan killed me, especially when his character said things like, “My favourite jobs are, like, interior designer, but then robber.”

And it’s actor Tom Pickett’s unadorned honesty that makes it so sweet — and funny — when his character approaches Sunny with a serious “relationship problem”. He wants to marry three of his friends at the same time: he wants to marry Ash and Ming, who are both girls, but mostly a boy named Frank because Frank is funny, and Pickett’s struggling little guy thinks that would be great because Frank could make their children laugh.

Yeah. So CHILD-ish is also moving. Even the land acknowledgement is moving because Drake frames it by asking the kids what they think it means — and they know what it means. Referring to residential schools, James Yi’s boy character says, “I would be devastated.”

After the first movement, the script takes a turn: Sunny realizes he’s been interviewing kids — without having asked them what they want to talk about. So he gives over some of this creative control, and things get richer and darker.

The kids talk about suicide and the ways they’ve been exposed to it.

And, in a surprising twist that’s the emotional climax of this 75-minute piece, they talk about how much they hate cellphones. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it begins when one of the kids says, “I liked my mom more before she had an iPhone.”

They cover it all, without the practised denial of adulthood: climate change, race, gender.

Every one of the performances is exquisite and director Lois Anderson has cast so there’s a rich variety of textures: the melancholy that Maki Yi brings to a story of betrayal, the high-strung intelligence of Tasha Faye Evans’s character, the empathy and surprise in Vickruck’s Sunny.

Anderson’s blocking, which features six actors and six chairs, keeps refreshing the eyes — much like the twists in Drake’s script keep refreshing the mind and the spirit: his frank acknowledgement of the evolution of the project; his invitation to audience members to ask one another, in the course of the show, some of the questions the kids have been asking.

Besides doing the costumes, Ball designed a set that had me invested in CHILD-ish even before it started. A huge, elegant mobile hangs over the playing area, suspending transparent, coloured plastic discs that have caricature portraits of children on them. Some stylin’ school with high ceilings should buy this.

Mary Jane Coomber’s subtle sound design does a great job of supporting the emotional content without directing it or intruding upon it.

And then there’s the big takeaway. “The unicorn is hopeful,” the kids say. “And the unicorn may look like Elvis.”

CHILD-ISH by Sunny Drake. Directed by Lois Anderson. On Friday, February 16. A Pacific Theatre production running at Pacific Theatre until March 9. Tickets

Photo credit: In their kid characters, Tasha Faye Evans, James Yi, Craig Erickson, and Make Yi crack up. (Photo by Chelsey Stuyt)

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