— Production poster
YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME: A G20 ROMP!
Tommy Taylor’s one-man show, You Should Have Stayed Home: A G20 Romp!, produced by Toronto’s Praxis Theatre, comes to the Firehall as part of a Canadian tour with stops in Whitehorse, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. The show, which started as a Facebook rant, was a major hit at Toronto’s 2011 SummerWorks Festival—not all that surprising, given its subject: the unwarranted arrest and grotesque imprisonment of innocent bystanders during Toronto’s G20 summit in 2010.
Written and performed by Taylor under Michael Wheeler’s direction, You Should Have Stayed Home tells an undeniably important story about abuses of police power and the limits of free speech and political protest in Canada. My question is whether that story couldn’t have been told more effectively, with more dramatic (and therefore stronger political) impact, especially given its expansion from a one-off hometown festival performance to a national tour.
Taylor is a relaxed, charming, somewhat shabby, roly-poly guy who sits behind a desk within designer Scott Penner’s set: a large metal cage with a porta-potty in one corner, suggesting the 10’ by 20’ cages in which Taylor, his girlfriend, another male friend and over 1000 others were imprisoned for almost 24 hours under terrible conditions that June weekend in Toronto.
As he tells it, a huge security force failed to intervene in violent anarchist protests one day, but indiscriminately swept up peaceful protesters and non-participant bystanders the next day, himself included. Arrested, handcuffed, transported to the makeshift prison camp, but never charged, they were held in brutally overcrowded conditions without access to lawyers, with little food or water and only a doorless porta-potty for each cage. They had to beg the largely unhelpful and unresponsive guards and police for a little toilet paper. Unable to wipe themselves because of their handcuffs, the women resorted to wiping each other.
Ontario’s ombudsman eventually found that all sorts of civil rights injustices were done. But no one in authority was ever punished and none of the innocent victims ever compensated.
Taylor’s narrative strikes a balance between good-natured understatement (the “romp” of the subtitle seems inappropriate, though) and a sincere concern for the discomfort, fear, civil rights abuses and physical danger that characterized the event. (Taylor himself passed out from dehydration in his prison cage.) But it’s easy to imagine a more compelling telling of the story.
Taylor operates a laptop, which appears to control projections that provide cartoon images and section headings like “18 hours since I was arrested,” but these visuals add little to the experience, and the laptop itself is an unexplained distraction.
There are also groups of people that Praxis recruits at every stop on the tour who come onstage a couple of times during the show as Taylor’s fellow prisoners. TJ Dawe and Mark Leiren-Young were among the opening night detainees. Handcuffed and looking glum, these extras stand around him inside the cage set, giving us a little more visual information about what the imprisonment might have been like. But they don’t get to do much, and their addition to the scene adds little to either the play’s emotional temperature or our intellectual appreciation of the event. Theatrically, none of this seems very imaginative.
Like so many similar solo storytelling shows at the recent Fringe Festival, this felt to me like a fringe play (75 minutes, minimal stagecraft, no intermission). It tells an important, potentially gripping story. But post-Fringe, or post-SummerWorks, is when shows like this need to flesh out theatrically so they can grab us and shake us into a more immediate, visceral awareness that something like this can happen here, too.