“It’s a little too much ‘kids being kids,’ formless and playing around on stage,” my show-watching companion said, quietly, upon leaving Tick (by Matthew MacKenzie). He wasn’t entirely right, but he wasn't entirely wrong either. Tick is a very entertaining show, and MacKenzie captures the voices of kids admirably and accurately, which is difficult to do. This means, however, that Tick reminds us of both the best and worst of kids; they are hilarious, ever-surprising, idealistic, inventive and full of boundless creative energy, but they also tend to whine, be overly loud, catastrophize, and have no idea when to stop (or stop repeating a joke).
Ten-year-old Tickailia Summers, or “Tick” (the captivating Jessica Moss), is a young dynamo hell-bent on getting under your skin. She is also asthmatic, and allergic to 67 different known things, living life on the edge every day. She’s incensed that her mother’s boyfriend, city councilor Murray (Nathan Barrett), is getting rid of the books in her library, replacing them with chained E-Readers with 15-minute reading time limits. Tick plans a children’s revolution for the not-yet-enfranchised age group, attempting to unite the kids from the wrong side of the tracks with her friends; solar eclipse-obsessed Rudeger (Tony Ofori), hockey-loving Dawn (Jenna Harris), and general dance fiend and space case Chelsea (also Barrett), all of which are refreshingly non-gender-or-racially-stereotyped. Also on Tick’s side are some spiritual revolutionary allies whose identities I won’t specify. Trying to get Tick to see the “grown-up” side of the issue are the supercilious Murray, Tick’s mother (Harris, appealingly stern but loving), and elderly neighbour Mr. Emeline (Ofori), who traps squirrels, teaches Tick knitting to her chagrin, and believes society takes too much for granted.
Precocious Tick is very funny, chock-full of references and language beyond her years and her friends’ comprehension, tantrums, pouting, dance moves and war councils and rhetoric. The author does a decent job of showing us the “other side” of the issue, though there is a clear “wrong” side. It’s nice to see Tick as a flawed hero, so that the issue doesn’t become too preachy; very much a child, she blows everything up to the most straw-filled of straw man proportions, refuses any attempt to see eye-to-eye, abuses her friends, and throws tantrums equally at the destruction of the library and being forced to eat the same thing for dinner two days in a row. Though she has a strong point (and a relevant one, based on recent attempts in this city to “take on” libraries), we also understand why it is extremely difficult to let children be part of the democratic process.
Tick is about children, and so it is perhaps necessarily loud and brash, but overall there is really too much mugging from the actors; this is especially true when the play’s strong suit is the part where we actually feel for and listen to the characters, in the moments of quiet, whether found in happiness or disappointment. This could be a comment on our current political discourse; nothing gets done when everyone is screaming and divisive. However, it is also a patience-thinner when most moments are played for MAXIMUM LOUDNESS AND INTENSITY; though we need the loud moments to appreciate the quiet ones, we need something in between to appreciate the loudness.
Tick should probably be an hour-long show; at 75 minutes, it feels padded, particularly as one of the Fringe’s few hour-plus-long slots. A particular endless celebratory dance sequence is eerily reminiscent of the ending of various Dreamworks movies, such as Shrek: The Shrekiest, where instead of a real ending, fairy-tale creatures drop whatever they’re doing and dance to a modern pop song for desperate added cool cred and ironic relevance. Of course, this doesn’t entirely describe Tick, as it’s not calculated; it’s guileless and joyful and sweet. But, as the character of Tick slowly comes to learn over the course of the piece, seemingly as part of its point, and as a mother might say to her screaming ten-year-old (as stuffy and stifling as it might make this reviewer sound): “Indoor voice, honey. If they have to strain to hear you sometimes, they’ll listen harder.”