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REVIEW: Girls & Boys at Here For Now Theatre/Crow’s Theatre

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The banner image for Intermission's review of Girls & Boys, a Here for Now Theatre production in association with Crow's Theatre. The image shows Fiona Mongillo, Here for Now's AD and the sole performer in the production, wearing a green collard jumpsuit. She stares past the camera imploringly, one hand raised in front of her as though asking an important question. iPhoto caption: Original image by Terry Manzo.
/By / Jan 31, 2023
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Every arts-enthusiast has one show — or more, if you’re lucky — that sticks with them after the final bow, the music fades out, and the curtains close. Girls & Boys, a Here For Now Theatre production in association with Crow’s Theatre is one that affected me deeply, and it’s a production that I know I will carry with me for a long time.

This is a play of extremes. Hilarity gives way to heartbreak; simple pleasures secede to hard-won successes; and intimacy implodes into horrific violence. But rather than seeming far-fetched or unlikely, the powerful tale of a woman whose seemingly idyllic life takes a tragic turn is all too real. 

Dennis Kelly’s solo play is hard to describe without giving away the piece’s shocking twist. The playwright, perhaps best known for his multi-award musical adaptation of Matilda, penned this particular show as a warning to himself of what people are capable of, as noted in the program. It’s a show that demands its audience sit in discomfort and stare trauma in the face. But at its core, Girls & Boys is a story of deep loss, woven into a tale that is as beautifully told as it is brutal.

Fiona Mongillo is absolutely astounding as the piece’s sole performer, delivering a refined and emotional performance that made the story feel like her own. Although this is not her first time tackling the difficult piece — she starred in Here For Now’s 2022 Canadian premiere of the production in Stratford — the nuance and realism she brings to the stage keep the story feeling fresh. Whether telling a comedic (and, at times, sexually explicit) story of a meet-cute in an airport or simmering in the focused intensity of a recollection of an act of violence, every moment of Mongillo’s performance feels deeply truthful. If you, like me, avoid reading the programme before the show begins, you might think the piece is autobiographical: such is the complexity of her performance. 

While Girls & Boys may not tell the story of one specific woman, it certainly is a story that many women around the world experience. According to Statistics Canada, family and intimate partner violence increased 3% between 2020 and 2021, with over two-thirds of victims of family violence being women and girls. And together with UK-based director Lucy Jane Atkinson, Mongillo ensures she tells the story in a way that honours those women without ever feeling exploitative.

Presented in Crow’s Theatre’s Community Studio, it’s clear that every second of the 95-minute production was carefully considered before being staged. The set is simple: a white, multi-level platform and backdrop with a single white chair, and a table with a glass of water. It’s an intimate playing space that allows Mongillo to explore, connect with the audience, and tell her harrowing tale without distraction. The blank canvas also emphasizes the memory-sequences in the production, creating a dream-like effect as the narrator interacts with her children, allowing its performer to shape the audience’s experience of the show with incredible control.

This is a show rife with violence, but the violence is never depicted graphically, only implied. But the lack of physical conflict on stage in no way dulls the impact of the character’s loss — if anything, the simple retelling of events only makes it more impactful: each word hits its target with perfect aim. 

Atkinson and Mongillo really are the dream team for this particular story: their collaboration has yielded a production that is at times fast-paced and entertaining, and at others deliberate and almost soul-crushing. Mongillo bounces between borderline stand-up style storytelling and memory reenactments with ease. The latter scenes are particularly impressive to watch as she moves about the stage, interacting with her two children that only she can see. A slight adjustment to the way she is holding her toddler son; a gentle caress of her daughter’s head as she rests on her mother’s lap. These moments are mimed, but their precision is marvelous: on multiple occasions, I forgot that the children weren’t physically on the stage.

While I firmly believe that this is a show Canadian audiences can and should handle, please be warned that there is content in this show that is extremely disturbing, and may be too much for certain audience members, particularly victims of family violence. It’s a difficult show to provide trigger warnings for: too little information could be deeply traumatizing to viewers, while too much information could dull the impact of the performance. If you are at all concerned about the content of the production, Crow’s Theatre has asked potential viewers to contact their patron’s services department or box office to find out more, and determine if this is an appropriate show for them to attend (please see the content warning below).

There is a particular moment in the show in which Mongillo’s character delivers a sober reminder to the audience: “This is not happening to you. And it is not happening now.” It’s a powerful message that only highlights how often this type of story actually does occur in the real world, and it very much encapsulates the message of the story. These are not moments that we as a society can shy away from. We must watch, in order to prevent them from happening again.


Girls & Boys runs at Crow’s Theatre until February 12. To find out more and purchase tickets for the production, visit the Crow’s Theatre website.

Girls & Boys is intended for a mature audience and contains graphic descriptions of violence. If there are certain themes that you would find particularly disturbing, please speak to someone in Crow’s Theatre’s patron’s services before purchasing your ticket, by contacting the box office via email at boxoffice@crowstheatre.com, or call 647.341.7390 ext. 1010.

Jessica Watson
WRITTEN BY

Jessica Watson

Jessica is a former associate editor at Intermission, as well as a writer, classically-trained actor, and plant enthusiast. Since graduating from LAMDA in the UK with her MA in acting, you can often find her writing screenplays and short plays in the park, writing extensive lists of plant care tips, or working on stage and screen (though she uses a stage name). Jessica freelances with various companies across Canada, but her passion lies in working with theatre artists and enthusiasts.

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