Stage dramedy meets TV ‘series finale’ in “Inch of Your Life: The Last Bit”

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

Jack Everett as Nick, Giovanna Pandullo as Sylvia; Ceridwen Kingstone as Jill; Photo by Anthony Patrick Manieri

This weekend, I saw The Theatre Circuit’s Inch of Your Life, Episode 3 – The Last Bit. Creator and Director Massimo Pagliarolli’s Inch of Your Life borrows the pacing, energy, character-driven action and episodic format of television, and brings it to life on stage. As the title suggests, this is the third and final part of a story. Episode 1 – The Pilot was staged in March, and Episode  2 – The Middle Part in May, which is when I first came upon Inch. What immediately struck me in Episode 2 was the inventiveness of the recap: it was a snappy, sharply choreographed dialogue sequence of in-character exposition that revealed as much about the characters in the way they bickered, as the information they were conveying. Brought to vivid life by the fresh-faced ensemble cast, the characters felt well-realized and likeable. And this sense was paid off in spades in the show, which was smart, snappy, earnest — and genuinely, frequently laugh-out-loud funny — thanks to both the situations depicted and the talented cast.     

In The Last Bit, the recap is more functional. With two plays’ worth of material to summarize, it’s become a sequence of verbatim re-enactments of dialogue like you would expect at the start of an episodic television drama (“Last week on Inch of Your Life…”). They convince you to care for these people and get you up to speed on the action. So don’t be afraid – if you’ve missed the first two “bits”, you’ll have no problems following along. And after a brief, outlandish mock-dance opening, the recap’s restrained choreography focuses instead on playing the multiple plots off one another: for instance, by interspersing the dialogue of two pairs of characters reenacting  different dialogue from The Middle Part. The illumination of parallel plots foreshadows The Last Bit’s heavier focus on structure and theme.  

Giovanna Pandullo as Mrs Preston, Antonino Pruiti as Gus, Luis Fernandes as Mr Preston; Photo by Anthony Patrick Manieri

At the center of Inch of Your Life are the 3 Catelli brothers: rough-around-the-edges eldest brother Eddie (Luis Fernandes), who earns a living doing shady things for money with friend Gus (Antonino Pruiti), broke with Sylvia (Giovanna Pandullo) his girlfriend of ten years in Part 2.  Nick (Jack Everett) is the mysterious middle brother on a journey of learning about himself – and others learning about him. Sam (Jonathan Sconza) is the hyperactive younger brother, resentful of his older brothers’ slights and abuses – one of which was the cliffhangers at the end of Part 2. Sam’s friends inhabit a parallel plot: Luke Richmond (Alex Clay) is a self-reliant, meticulously groomed, single gay man with family challenges of his own, and Brandon Knox’s Eric Day is his rumpled straight best friend, who is in over his head in the relationship space after taking Luke’s advice on love and relationships. Finally, Sylvia’s friend Jill (Ceridwen Kingstone), has decided the volatile and unpolished Gus may be a way to stir the pot with her family.     

So yes, family is a major and dominant theme – how family defines us and yet doesn’t define us; how there are at least two sides to every family story; how family is a messy mix of explicit expectation, unspoken intention and tacit assumption. And as has been seen on television, it’s hard to bring an episodic drama to a satisfactory close. It’s easier to be in the perpetual middle: advancing character arcs incrementally, only needing to pay them off one at a time and temporarily, leaving space for comedy. The pressures of closure do change some elements of “The Last Bit”. Scenes are longer, with more exposition of childhood or teenage experience. The feel is more sentimental. We’re going deeper inside these characters. Within this construct, the dialogue remains sharp, fast and polished. The propulsive drumming in dark light remains the soundtrack for every set change, accomplished by the cast moving a few objects in and out, and re-positioning chairs – the contrast is more pointed now. It’s less the drumbeat of a punchline, more a jolt to bring us back up to the surface.    

Alex Clay as Luke; Brandon Knox as Eric; Photo by Anthony Patrick Manieri

There are still gut-bustingly funny scenes – especially when Antonino Pruiti as Gus gets involved. The opening of the second act, where Jill unleashes Gus on Jill’s rich parents (played by Pandullo and Fernandes in ironic commentary on their broken-up “main” characters) – is both a scenery-chewing standout and a vehicle for revealing Gus’ unexpected depths. And the heart within these characters and relationships shines through consistently. Clay’s Luke and Knox’s Eric teeter on the edge of excess given the volume of backstory and inner story they need to reveal, but the underlying  heart, punctuated by quips – never loses us.

And the ending, happily, leaves us without every plot neatly tied in a bow. The characters reach a number of hard-won insights and realizations, and many seek to change and move forward. But we’re not sure they’ll be successful . . . and we also get strong and funny evidence as the play closes that, while some people change and some things change, some do not. If I have one complaint, it’s that there is not enough Giovanna Pandullo as Sylvia, and not enough Luis Fernandes as Eddie Catelli. Their characters and their relationship were the engine of the comedy in the “Middle Part,” and their take-no-prisoners, yet vulnerably human, exchanges remain etched in my mind. Comedy can have consequences – and we deal with those consequences for Sylvia and Sam (and others) here in the “Last Bit”. We’re rooting for them. We want them back together – the narrative price of seeing how this pays off is an eschewal of those memorable fireworks.

Inch of Your Life is thematically rich dramedy with a heart of gold and a television-meets-stage vibe driven by energetic direction, earnest and well-realized characters, and a talented ensemble cast. To my eyes and ears, The Theatre Circuit, a new theatre company, looks and sounds refreshingly different. I’ll be there to check out whatever the company’s next “bit” looks like.

Jonathan Sconza as Sam; Photo by Anthony Patrick Manieri

News You Can Use

What: Inch of Your Life, Episode 3: The Last Bit, written and directed by Massimo Pagliaroli

Cast: Alex Clay, Jack Everett, Luis Fernandes, Ceridwen Kingstone, Brandon Knox, Giovanna Pandullo, Antonino Pruiti and Jonathan Sconza
Creative: Producer: Carlo Vitelli; Lighting Designer: Christopher Ross; Percussion: Evan Bowen; Stage Manager: Laura Philipps

When: On stage until July 28, 2018; Running Time: 2 hours (including one 10-minute intermission)

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille – Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: TheTheatreCircuit.com

© 2018 Scott Sneddon, Sesaya

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