The 501 — Toronto in Transit

At Theatre Passe Muraille from December 4-8, 2012

The Queen car, known since the advent of the “new” streetcars by its route number 501, is almost 25km from Long Branch to Neville.  It runs through many neighbourhoods each with its own history, quirks and stories.  Some of these are very much part of the evolving city, others exist only in the memory of those who lived in Toronto through the gains and losses of decades.

Justin Many Fingers, Bob Nasmith and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard spent half a year collecting stories from their travels on the 501.  Some are humourous events we will all recognize (a teacher shepherding a class of children), some are vignettes from a long-vanished youth (bathing cars to Sunnyside), some are the trying and at times dangerous effects of service riders can’t count on when they need it.

Each of the three actors/creators brings their own style and background.  Many Fingers is a First Nations actor/dancer from Alberta, and physical movement is part of his stories.  St. Bernard’s work in spoken word and hip-hop translate her experiences on the 501 to song.  Nasmith, long associated with Theatre Passe Muraille, is a story-teller.  He provides the thread linking episodes as we travel from Long Branch far in the west to Neville Loop in the now so-trendy Beach.

The three styles don’t completely gel into one work, but that’s the nature of Toronto — many people whose lives reflect different origins and experiences of the city.  There is no attempt at plot here beyond the journey across town as, in cinema terms, we fade in and out on each passing neighbourhood.

This is a Backspace production at TPM, and the set is rudimentary — four TTC seats and a pole — all the better because we are left to conjure each scene as it is told without a lot of stage business to get in the way.  That’s the magic of storytelling — we each bring our own knowledge of Queen Street, chuckle at familiar sights in our mind’s eye, and share in the pain of the inevitable short turn.

I saw the November 29th performance, a preview, and this bodes well for the opening on December 4.

The 501 — Toronto in Transit is part of TPM’s fall 2012 season Theatre Beyond Walls with plays by and about the community around the theatre.  More information is available at the TPM website.