Ryerson Theatre School brings Toronto to the stage in “Suburban Motel and Filthy Rich”

Ryerson Theatre School translates reality onto the stage with Suburban Motel and Filthy Rich.

The six-play series was written by acclaimed Canadian playwright George F. Walker. A former resident of the Leslieville neighbourhood, Walker based the characters on his experiences growing up in the city.

The school premiered Problem Child and Featuring Loretta, two of the six plays, on Nov. 2

Problem Child focuses on a strung-out couple, played by Nick Uffen and Brooke Morrice, who anxiously try to impress a social worker in order to regain custody of their baby.

Later, taking place in the same motel room, is Featuring Loretta, which is about a confused young woman who is looking for a way to make fast cash. One thing leads to another and she gets roped into trying her hand at making pornographic videos.

Marianne McIsaac and Tamara Vuckovic direct the plays.

“Even though all of the stories take place in the same hotel room, all of the characters are different and all of their worries are different. That’s what makes it so fascinating to do this piece,” says McIsaac.

While the plays do not make any specific references to Toronto, Vuckovic says these characters are “very much present” in major cities around the world.

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According to McIsaac, the actors were able to meet with Walker around three times. The veteran director describes the presence of the playwright at one of their rehearsals as “the turning point in the dynamic of the cast.”

“It scared the crap out of them,” she says. “It really made them snap to attention.”

The two plays are united by an underlying theme of desperation, which Chelsea Muirhead, who plays Loretta, says she hopes the audience can empathize with.

“Loretta could be a real person, or she could be anyone, and [the audience] could be dealing with the same situations,” she says.

Loretta works in a restaurant and is approached by the seedy character Michael. He tries to set the young woman up in sex work by offering her a dancing job in Berlin, but eventually persuades her to make sex films.

Muirhead also works in the restaurant industry. She has had men approach her in an effort to work together on photo shoots in the same “sketchy” fashion as Michael did with Loretta.  

“In that way, I did have little tidbits,” she says. “But Loretta is so far removed from how I carry myself, everything else was pretty much the opposite of what I know.”

Suburban Motel and Filthy Rich will be showing at the Ryerson Theatre School until Nov. 8. This is the first time the series will be performed in its entirety.

Photos courtesy of Pavlo Bosyy