'Two Minutes to Midnight' by Michael Ross Albert

The Assembly Theatre

The Assembly Theatre

Joe Szekeres

A satisfyingly good script that pays attention to some minute details.

Sometimes, but not always, it’s the little things that can either make or break a trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean for a winter getaway. I know of many people who, before going away on holiday, make a list and check each item off when it goes in the suitcase. A little OCD, perhaps, but it’s that person’s holiday and he/she/they want to enjoy it his/her/their way, and it’s no concern of mine.

The Assembly Theatre’s intimate black box setting paid careful attention to some important checklist items in its opening night performance of Michael Ross Albert’s ‘Two Minutes’. Was it worth my first trip to Parkdale for a Covid getaway? I’ll let you know shortly.

As soon as I entered the lobby, I was heartily welcomed and asked if I wanted to wear a lei around my neck. I haven’t travelled to Hawaii yet, so I thought I’ll get the next best thing and wear a plastic one. The lobby was decked out in all things Caribbean, and the bar was open and serving island flavoured drinks.
Even though we’re still in Covid, I could see the theatre was doing its due diligence in ensuring protocols were in place to keep everyone safe so kudos there.

Anyone who has travelled to an all inclusive knows the music around the bar usually starts blaring loudly at 9 am. The same thing occurred here in the auditorium, but I smiled because I knew immediately that is exactly what it’s like at many of the all-inclusive resorts I’ve visited, so a big check mark here on the list.
Pascal Labillois’s patio set design paid charming and attractive details to capture the Caribbean setting in this intimate environment.

A gorgeous and soothing aqua blue painting of Caribbean waters adorns the back wall. Michael Wielgomas is listed in the online programme as Graphic Designer so I’m not sure if he painted it. If he did, then wonderful work. Centre stage are two blue and white striped chairs (the kind your skin doesn’t stick to in the heat) angled in front of a tiny circular table. Two plastic wine glasses are found there.

Meticulous detail was also paid to the flooring and to the walls up over stage right and left entrances. Painted stones resembling those one might find in the Caribbean go all the way up the right side of the house. Stage right is the entrance to the restaurant with a lantern on each side of the doorway equidistant from each other. Stage left is the entrance to the use of the washroom (which was clever as the actual building’s restrooms were there for patron use before the performance began).

Chin Palipane’s lighting design warmly incorporated a very hot, humid looking ambience surrounding the two characters. The costumes worn by Jack and Tracy fittingly embrace the re-created heat of the sun on stage. He wears a Hawaiian/Caribbean flowered shirt with dark blue shorts and sandaled looking deck shoes. She wears a low-cut one-piece green bathing suit with a flowered kimono ontop and what appeared to be white, comfortable looking deck shoes.

Albert’s at times sharp, witty, comical and tumultuous story introduces how couple Jack (Luis Fernandes) and Tracy (Cass Van Wyck) are of extreme opposites in personality and I wondered how they have stayed together for so long. His fervently solid interest in becoming a social media influencer through his daily online postings grates on her nerves. But so much is hidden underneath and becomes unearthed about their living together as the story progresses. An event of seismically epic proportions in their relationship forces Jack and Tracy finally to begin looking at it and give it the attention it deservedly needs.

Two things I really liked about Albert’s script – one was the solid use of one-line zingers which both Fernandes and Van Wyck succinctly captured in their high-octane performances. The other was the dramatic pauses and moments which are needed to balance the high velocity paced humour.

Fernandes and Van Wyck are likable, convincing, and hearty performers who favourably won me over in their credibility of two people who are on the brink of a possible breakup and who wanted to use this island vacation as a last chance to reconnect as a couple. I’ll give credit here to Janelle Cooper who, in her visionary list as director, strongly kept Fernandes and Van Wyck grounded in the truth of the moment and never allowed them to venture hysterically over the top.

So, was my checked list completed after seeing ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’?

Indeed, it was, and I am so pleased the Assembly Theatre took me on a 70-minute vacation with them.

However, all inclusive vacations also look for possible suggestions and feedback. There was one quibble that I did have.

About 5-7 minutes into the show, a great deal of shouting and screaming occurs. I get why it was done; however, given the confined playing space of the intimate auditorium seating, the shouting and screaming were a tad uncomfortable to my ear drums and I missed a great deal of information both actors gave at this point. I get it that the veracity of the moment is high paced and wonted, but I completely lost what was said between the two actors as it appeared momentarily out of control. I had to glean (actually, read pray here) that I would have gathered later what all the screaming was about.

Just a slight quibble, that’s all.

Final Comments: Go on this trip with Jack, Tracy, and the Assembly Theatre in Parkdale. ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ is a trip we all need right now especially as we are entering the sixth wave of Covid.

Covid protocols in effect.

Running time: approximately 70 minutes.

The production runs to April 24, Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm at The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen Street West, Toronto. To purchase tickets online and for other information: www.theassemblytheatre.com.

TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT by Michael Ross Albert
Presented by The Assembly Theatre
Director: Janelle Cooper
Stage Manager: Marvin Araneta
Set Designer: Pascal Labillois
Lighting Designer: Chin Palipane
Graphic Designer: Michael Wielgomas
Associate Producer: Sebastian Biassuci

Abstract Building
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