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In Conversation with Jay Turvey & Jeff Irving on “existential thriller” GRIMLY HANDSOME at The Assembly Theatre

Interview by Megan Robinson

“You’re a mouse in my hands. You’re safe.” – Grimly Handsome (Director Jay Turvey’s favourite quote)

The excitement that director Jay Turvey and actor Jeff Irving share for their upcoming production of Grimly Handsome, starting November 4th at The Assembly Theatre, is infectious. “You’re listening to people on the cusp of inspiration right now,” Irving says with a laugh.

Grimly Handsome is the first production of their new theatre company, Theatre Animal, as well as the play’s Canadian premiere. At one point in our phone interview, Irving bounces between some ideas for their company’s creative future, telling me, “our limit is our imagination.” Creating their own work is something they’ve been talking about for years.

The director and the cast of Grimly are all ensemble members at the Shaw Festival and they’ve been rehearsing the production in Niagara-on-the-Lake on and off for a couple of months now. With load-in happening the day after the interview, Turvey and Irving are looking forward to being in the new space that Unit 102 and Leroy Theatre have created near Queen and Jameson. “They’ve been great with us,” Turvey tells me. “I’m so glad they were able to create this space for small theatre to exist and continue.” With the turnover of small theatres in Toronto shutting down, this new space is a win.

Irving describes Grimly as an “existential thriller,” and then Turvey jumps in, elaborating, “There’s a murder. There’s a serial killer on the loose who is killing young people at Christmastime.” It is a play in three parts that is funny as well as scary. They reference another actor in the show, Ben Sanders, who says that it is unlike anything he’s seen before in Toronto.

Surreal and avant-garde, the story unfolds in a way that invites the audience to lean in a little closer to make sense of what is going on. In doing so, Irving says, it forces them to “practice listening and being present in the space.” The ending leaves itself open to interpretation but is not vague for the sake of being vague, instead the play is open-ended with the hope that afterward, the audience will walk away wanting to discuss their take on it.

Julia Jarcho, the playwright, is greatly influenced by Samuel Beckett and David Lynch, and Turvey has worked with designer Christine Urquhart to create a world reflective of this. In one example, Turvey explains how they’ve worked to create a forest that is both inviting and dangerous by using lots of red, greens and blacks, playing with Jarcho’s idea of Grimm’s fairytales. The result of the design is a dream world that is both urban and other.

It is a show that deals with themes of psychological unrest and plays into the universal and very human need to find our place in the grand scope of the world. This last part is what Irving says all young people think about a lot, or at least, he does.

Grimly Handsome, is being produced at the perfect time of year. “It’s basically Halloween and Christmas. People started celebrating Christmas yesterday.” Irving says with a laugh.

Why should you see the show? Irving pulls the final punch, “It’s going to be fucking fantastic.”

Grimly Handsome

Written by: Julia Jarcho
Directed by: Jay Turvey
Cast: Jeff Irving, Ben Sanders, Julia Course
Original Music: Paul Sportelli and John-Luke Addison
Lighting: Mikael Kangas
Costume and Set Design: Christine Urquhart

The Obie-award winning play is a triptych of urban stories: two unusual Christmas tree salesmen peddle their wares on the street, two cops follow the trail of a serial killer and in a vacant lot people transform in ways they never thought possible. GRIMLY HANDSOME is a haunting, comic thriller that exposes the underbelly of the city and the animal in us all.

The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St West

November 3rd-November 19th
Thu – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 4pm



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