Kat Sandler’s Punch Up, co-produced by Matchstick Theatre and Hello City! at the Bus Stop Theatre, is a madcap but meaningful comedy and a laugh riot in spite of its voyage into despair.
If you’re looking to get out of your own head and laugh and laugh, this 2014 Canadian hit is an indie must with six pay-what-you-can shows tonight through Sunday (https://www.tickethalifax.com/events/130423137/punch-up-by-kat-sandler).
Sandler creates an explosive situation when a mundane, possibly insane young man, Duncan, convinces a young woman about to kill herself to change her mind if he can make her laugh.
He invites Brenda to “dinner breakfast” then kidnaps his favourite comic Pat to “punch up” his material. But Pat has just split up from his female comedy partner and is a rage-filled, cynical man more interested in punching out than punching up.
This 90-minute gallop of a play is about comedy itself and the search for love and meaning in the face of death.
The pace is manic as Pat tries to get the naive Duncan to understand comedy and find comedy in the tragedy of his pathetic, lonely life.
The actors are all members of the award-winning Hello City! improv ensemble, as is director Peter Sarty. To say they understand pacing and physicality would be a vast understatement.
Henricus Gielis as Pat and Liam Fair as Duncan dance around each other in a beautiful way that speaks to a great deal of experience working together.
The acting demands are tricky; Pat needs to be angry and aggressive but also vulnerable; Duncan is either a psychotic dolt with a fake sweet side or a harmless man pretending to be a killer. Fair plays both sides of him very well. Gielis moves like a bull in a china shop; Fair skips around like an elf at a candy festival. Their repartee and timing are great as is the humanity they find in their characters.
Stevey Hunter as Brenda is alone on a ledge holding the audience’s attention as she records in a deadpan voice the tragedy of her life and her fatal flaw.
The producers wisely decided to open the show with stand up acts which suits the play and is a celebration of the local comedy community. The standup is hosted by Shahin Mohammadi, a lively member of Hello City! The guest comics I saw were Clare Belford and Colin McGuire, both excellent, insightful and wonderfully quirky in different ways.
Punch Up has a dark urban look in set, designed by Sam’Gwan the Artist, and lighting, designed by Matt Downey. The lighting is bold and melodramatic and comical when the stage goes red as Duncan lashes out in fury.
Costume design by Everette Fournier is excellent from Brenda’s torn stockings to punches of colour to cynically comical T-shirts that are laughs in themselves.
Punch Up runs at the newly renovated Bus Stop, 2203 Gottingen St., Halifax, tonight (Dec. 15), 7 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 17, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Punch Up, a hit since it premiered in Theatre Brouhaha’s 2014 production at the Toronto Fringe, is for mature audiences due to strong language and mature content though I think edgy teens would love its energy, despair and voyage out of despair through the healing power of comedy.
There is a paid parking lot next to the theatre (across from the YMCA on Gottingen) with street parking on Maitland Street.
This production features a Designer Mentorship Program for new or emerging theatre artists of colour, with Tara Taylor, whose play Love, Peace & Hairgrease, was recently co-produced by Eastern Front Theatre, working alongside Matchstick and Hello City! as mentorship advisor.
The mentors are Jackson Fairfax-Perry, Holly Carr and the Matchstick producing team; the mentees are Deryl Amenya (sound design), Sam’Gwan Paris (set design) and Jesse Nervais (production). Sara Graham is the show’s accessibility coordinator.