Reviewed in this essay: Love Is a Poverty You Can Sell, from Soup Can Theatre. Written by Justin Haigh, featuring the music of Kurt Weill and others. Directed by Sarah Thorpe. Musical Direction by Pratik Gandhi. Until January 15th at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. Part of The Toronto Fringe’s NextStage Festival. 416-966-1062 or www.fringetix.ca.
Sarah Thrope’s adaptation of Love Is A Poverty You Can Sell may be short, but it is just as sweet (or scathing, depending on your perspective) as the original. The play pays homage to the music and musical influence of Kurt Weill, a German-Jewish composer best known for his work in 1920s Germany. Theatre-goers can anticipate a half-hour tour-de-force—song, dance, comedy and some improv to boot—as the cast pulls out all the stops in a mere thirty minutes. While there are grumblings that the new adaptation lacks the coherence and continuity of the original production, and it’s true that Thrope and company significantly pare down the initial version, the re-tooled performance remains as immersive and inventive as the original.
As far as visuals and staging go, Thrope and stage manager Gabriel Nylund do honour to Soup Can’s artistic objectives, “merging classic works with contemporary stagecraft” by adapting to and reinventing Factory’s peculiar theatrical space. The venue is small, and upon entrance the performers are already in character: idly sipping gin or chatting with audience members, cheekily drawing your attention to the rose petals adorning theatre seats and other accoutrements of the spectacle put in place, as actress Natalie Kulesza informed me, “just for you.” On the way up the stairs to the antechamber, you may pass actor Alex Dault sitting at the head of the staircase, in a casual perch that playfully marks the versatile threshold of performance.
Bertolt Brecht fans will be especially pleased, as the performance is book-ended by two of the most famous hits from The Threepenny Opera, “The Ballad of Mac the Knife” and “What Keeps Mankind Alive.” (Other Weill pieces and inspirations that were particularly well-played include Chicago’s “Class” and Bent’s “Streets of Berlin”). Love Is a Poverty You Can Sell touches on a broad swath of themes (social class, the functions of art and human nature, to name a few), but keeps a distinct thread running through all of the song selections: in trying times, conversations about art need to turn on questions of social purpose. The shortened version of the play manages to stay true to Weill’s artistic ethics, and is a must-see Fringe feature.