Tough! A solid and enjoyable production

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

When George F. Walker wrote his 1993 play about three 19-year-olds battling a life stacked against them, he imbued it with passion, anger, intelligence and a hedged faith in the future. This Algonquin College Theatre Arts production does all those elements proud.

Set in a garbage-strewn inner city park (design by Attila Clemann), the play focuses on sharp-tongued Tina (Cynthia Guard) and her perpetually befuddled, self-absorbed boyfriend Bobby (Mitchel Johnson). She’s pregnant, he’s the father, and neither one is exactly ecstatic over the situation.

The difference between the two: Tina has the smarts and self-awareness to make the best of a bad deal whereas Bobby – self-pitying but with a sensitivity and a vague desire for a better life that appeal to Tina – falls apart anytime anyone looks at him sideways.

The third point of the play’s triangle is Jill, Tina’s devoted friend played by Catherine Valcy. Clear-eyed and determined – she’s in college and serious about it – Jill has known Bobby since kindergarten and has little regard for him.

(Full disclosure: I’m with Jill. I’ve never seen anything remotely attractive in Bobby, whether it’s in Tough! or in Moss Park, the play’s less interesting sequel that recently played the Great Canadian Theatre Company and which finds Tina and Bobby several years older but not changed all that much. Really, this whiny guy should just stick a sock in it.)

The play’s trajectory is one of confrontation, dark humour, revelations of deep loneliness and glimmers of hope. Along the way, Bobby gets a sound thrashing from Jill. As the play closes, Tina and Jill are moving on with their lives while Bobby idles in neutral.

Director Mary Ellis has worked hard with her actors and they’ve reciprocated. Lines are almost flawless, emotions flair with credibility, bodies inhabit space naturally, and the production for the most part moves with the quick give and take that a Walker play demands.

Guard and to a lesser extent Johnson need to sharpen their enunciation, especially when speaking excitedly. Also, the intensity flags too much when Bobby exits the scene toward the end of the play, leaving just Tina and Jill in the park.

But these are minor fissures in a solid, enjoyable production.

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