Let Amber Moon and her disciples teach you how to live your truth through “The Way”. But to get there, you must first go via the True North Heart; Former Electric Circus era #1 hit song. A pounding dance track with searing vocals brilliantly sung by Emma Banigan, who hit every high note (literally) as the show’s beautiful yet heinous “celebrity cult” leader, Ms. Moon. She’s a likely parody of Toronto’s own Candi and the Backbeat (Under A Latin Moon)…look it up. Ok I’ve just shown my age – she could be based on Carlie Rae Jepsen or early Alanis…yeah look it up. I loved Moon’s teal, satin, block heels (along with Sonny’s even higher-stacked, black, suedey velvety ones). Block heels seemed to be Theatre by Committee’s nod to the popular fashion of the day that’s all over the place thanks to Brian Atwood’s awesome-as-fuck looking ones that you always see listed under clearance on Nordstrom Rack’s website….*ahem*
Theatre By Committee’s Wagon Play, written and directed by Ben Hayward and Owen Fawcett, stars Emma Banigan as Amber Moon, a former pop star who has reached enlightenment via near death experience and is passing on her teachings through a life philosophy she calls “The Way”. Before seeing this show, I spent a fair amount of time researching online as to whether or not this was actually a “play” or some sort of David Lynch sponsored Transcendental Meditation event because Theatre By Committee did such an excellent job of building a realistic, online presence for Amber Moon, and I really wasn’t 100% sure until the day of the show if she was real or not.
The venue, Majlis Art Garden – just Southeast of Trinity Bellwoods Park, is an apt setting for an immersive and interactive play about a cult leader and her disciples. The outdoor patio and boho decor paired perfectly with the enthusiastic, albeit slightly creepy greeting we received by several of the “cult members” upon entering. We were offered lemonade and it was so hot, I drank it after a lot of apprehension. I hope I’m ok. After answering a question relating to a C-list actress we won’t name, we were classified as Level 2s and taken to a sitting area where we drank said lemonade and were introduced to The Way. If you love exhausting, physical, audience participation, this is the show for you. I have social anxiety disorder so it was awkward. But less awkward than an improv class at The Second City.
I don’t want to give too much away but I will say this: Fortunately this play is NOT an attack on TM (which I’ve apprehensively recently become involved in with lacklustre results, yet remain hopeful it will eventually work) or even Scientology (which I am clearly against thanks to my allegiance to Leah Remini since Living Dolls and Saved by the Bell: Summer Season). This play is a fun look at celebrity worship and our obsession with being seen on social media. Throughout the performance we were encouraged to take as many pictures as possible in order to post on Instagram etc. Wagon Play is chock-full of celebrity impersonations and topical references. And you know what? I love that shit. (See Sketchersons: Sunday Night Live).
My only complaint is – although Sonny (Brendan Kinnon) did an excellent, Zelda’s worthy, drag impersonation of a heralded diva that shall remain a surprise….I would swap out this drag staple for a much timelier and livelier reference…someone who I am so obsessed with I have to find a way to mention her in almost all of my reviews – Lady Gaga. She, after all, created The Fame Monster. I can just picture Brendan Kinnon hanging from a chandelier in white Alexander McQueen covered in fake blood as a statement on how celebrity culture killed him once The Way finally chewed him up and spat him out. I know he could pull it off judging by how comfortable he performed in those 4-5 inch block heels that I would never have the guts to wear myself.
The absolute standout performance of the evening was given by Lindsey Middleton (never give up that last name) as Kanye West (I wasn’t going to give it away but Now Magazine already did in their NNNN review of Wagon Play). I loved it. I loved her. We were not just treated to a lip sync but a live rap parody of Jesus Walks (Is that the song? I’m old). She didn’t mess anything up. She had more stage presence than that dopey Kardashian-Borg like assimiliation, West himself and wayyy more talent in her little finger than his current wife. Middleton was trained at prestigious, local, stage combat academy Rapier Wit and it shows! There were some lines in the parody about an Amber, which made me wonder if they were a clever double entendre referring to not only Amber Moon, but also Amber Rose, who was the inspiration for Kanye’s only great album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Something I’ve got to add is – I loved Middleton on the trunk of the car with the bullhorn. Anyone who knows anything about anything will instantly be reminded of Azealia Banks in her latest music video Anna Wintour.
Although at first glance it seems this play requires a lot of thinking and over-analyzing to uncover deeper layers, fortunately this is not the case. Wagon Play is the opposite of shallow, but feel free to check your brain at the entrance and enjoy a good hour of easy to digest, pop culture based, live entertainment.
Wagon Play runs until July 15th at Majlis Art Garden, located at 163 Walnut Ave Southeast of Trinity Bellwoods Park. To purchase tickets, click here.
For more information on Wagon Play and Theatre By Committee, click here.