You’re sitting in a train station.
You’re waiting to board your train.
You’re looking forward to your… “trip”.
In “Invasive Species”, get ready to clamber aboard train 109 with Junior the toad hunter in Gabriel Schultz’s unsettling and nightmare-ish ecological thriller. This journey across Florida will have you laughing (because of discomfort?) and cause your jaw to permanently drop as you try to wrap your head around a trip of a lifetime.
At the world premiere of Blue Ox Productions’ one man show, we take a look at the state of modern America through the eyes of a man who has seen it in better days. As the Western World is beginning to settle into what feels like an inescapable, substanceless existence, one old-fashioned southern gentleman will go to desperate, self-destructive lengths to salvage its beauty and innocence by ridding it of what he deems the cause of it’s current ugly state: the Cane Toad.
Boarding has begun. Enter Junior, an outlandish and eerie-looking southern gent. There’s a cynical undertone in his voice, and from what you can make out of what he is telling you, he thinks that the “American Dream” is something of the past. He tells a crooked, bluesy story of tragically lost love. Beauty has become something that is bought with currency and meant to be industrially consumed rather than created from a burning, passionate desire. Just as God went about sending down a plague of frogs onto the Nile, the Cane Toad seems to be carnivorous punishment modern America gets for becoming a shiny, plastic, polluted metropolis. Finding the beauty of nature becomes a rare phenomenon, and gets closer to extinction as the ugly amphibian population grows.
We catch Junior as he embarks on a mission with no return. He bought himself a one-way ticket and he’s not looking back. His story is in part told by complicated, fragmented anecdotes and in part through a series of vintage-style informational videos, the very purpose of which seems to be filling in the gaps of Junior’s twisted tale of revenge. I’m still left shifting in my seat and leaning forward to catch the poetic and preachy prose that Junior spits. In his desperation to find peace in nature again, his attempt to rid the world of what is poisoning it becomes the very thing that is poisoning him, and he becomes the subject of his own destruction as well.
When it comes to storytelling, Gabriel Schultz embodies the dynamic energy that it takes to keep an audience focused throughout. The tone of his story rapidly shifts from admiration to anger to admonition keeping you hostage on a train that feels like it’s going way off course. His movement throughout the space and into the audience ads to the discomfort that is keeping you always alert and aware of where he’s leading you to next. He invades your personal space and forces you to adapt, like the wave of toads laying siege on America. The movement and expression moves past the realm of reality and bridges the gap between sobriety and the alternate reality that one can only experience through psychedelics.
However, I must admit that the pacing of Junior’s preaching was a tad fast. This sermon was not that of an inspirational and charismatic preacher, but of a broken man that you meet on the subway, telling you about the lessons that life has taught him. You nod, and take it in, but you leave the subway with a jumble of words and anecdotes that you are now forced to unscramble if you want to have any hope of absorbing any of that man’s (possible) wise words. I wanted to catch every detail of his story but couldn’t and was left attempting to piece together the entrails of dead toads that he left in his wake. Opening night jitters might explain this, and may possibly be the reason that the play ran shorter than I predicted.
An element in the performance that fell flat was the voice of Junior’s beloved Maybelline. Our charming narrator’s old-time southern drawl was one of the things that pulled me in from the start and kept me ever-interested. However, as soon as I heard Maybelline’s voice, I felt my eyebrows knit together. How could Junior, a fanatical romantic idealist, have fallen so madly in love with this woman who owned such a flat voice? The ethereal description that Junior provides for her simply didn’t match up with her inflection and one tone. She certainly didn’t feel like she was born in the same region, or even the same time period.
Gabriel Schultz presents us with a web of causes and effects, allegories and anecdotes and although his story is complex, his message is an important one that definitely warrants the extra focus. Junior is the discomforting anti-hero that throws off of the veil that protects America from its own ugliness. There’s comedy, there’s irony, there’s nightmare-like sequences reminiscent of bad trips, and most of all there’s nostalgia; a longing for an America that we can never get back. If you liked Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, if you hate any mode of transportation except the train, if you have a craving that can never be satisfied, a longing that will never be fulfilled (who doesn’t?) then you’ll appreciate “Invasive Species”.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Jasmine Mrenica
Blue Ox Productions presents “Invasive Species”
When: June 8 – 17, 2017
Where: Montreal Improv Theatre B, 3713 Saint-Laurent Blvd.
Duration: 45 minutes
Box Office: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival