Fare Game, Life in Toronto's Taxis a didactic ride
This year, Theatre Passe Muraille has made it its mission to present the defining stories of our city. They've produced shows that consider Toronto's most iconic structure, The CN Tower Show, and turned to the geography of downtown to tell us more about the people who live there, as in The Four Corners, and the Queen West Project. Their latest crop of shows, Fare Game and the upcoming 501 consider the most controversial of city services: public transit.
Fare Game: Life in Toronto's Taxis sets out to accomplish a noble and important aim — to bring awareness to the exploitation of Toronto's taxi drivers and to humanize those behind the wheel. As an instructive guide to the labour issues facing drivers and about the current campaign for better working conditions at Toronto City Hall, the play presents an overwhelmingly compelling case for taxi reform.
As a theatre piece, however, the play reads more like a disjointed public lecture featuring historical facts and testimonials. The performance lacks polish and direction, but most importantly the qualities of entertainment needed to balance all the instruction.
The play could be considered a verbatim theatre piece that incorporates ethnographic findings from research and interviews conducted by the three performers: Marjorie Chan, Ruth Madoc-Jones, and Alex Williams.
The collective weaves together first-hand accounts of conditions on the job with the history of Toronto's two-tiered taxi system, and the case before city council for equitable pay and improved working conditions.
Taxi drivers who speak on camera argue passionately on behalf of their peers. Khalil Talke, an Eritrean taxi driver who was viciously stabbed in his cab on Valentine's Day of last year, is a compelling figure helping lead the charge. These personal stories from hard-working and under-appreciated Torontonians go a long way in humanizing the ignored workforce.
A brush up on Toronto's taxi history, the first companies in Toronto, and how exactly to get a license in the city, are less exciting. While the facts and figures are no doubt important context, the presentation style falls flat. Further, while the city council proceedings tie in the current and pressing political agenda, the footage is dry and often ends abruptly.
The lack of a director may inevitably be at the root of some of these dramaturgical missteps. While the large-scale projections of Toronto streets through the taxi windshield provide a beautiful and flickering backdrop, the performances at the forefront lack energy and cohesion.
The highlight of opening night was when Artistic Director Andy McKim acknowledged the taxi drivers in attendance who offer their services to Toronto patrons. The play goes a long way to recognizing their efforts, but doesn't drive beyond its didactic starting point.
Fare Game: Life in Toronto's Taxis, presented by Marjorie Chan, Ruth Madoc-Jones and Alex Williams, runs at Theatre Passe Muraille until December 8.
Photo by Aviva Armour Ostroff
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