Factory Theatre’s latest triumph, and first in-person performance of the season, is the World Premiere of Among Men. Written by David Yee and directed by Factory’s Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino, Among Men delights audiences with the story of the fascinating friendship of A.W. Purdy and Milton Acorn, two beloved Canadian poets, as they work to build an A-frame cabin in Prince Edward County. A laugh-out-loud, moving piece of art, Among Men is certainly a jewel in Factory Theatre’s crown.
Ryan Hollyman (Purdy) and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio (Acorn) are absolutely electric on stage. They deliver Yee’s extremely witty, and sometimes very emotional, dialogue with a palpable chemistry that made the play an absolute joy to watch. The scenes where they would go from having heated debates or arguments to commonplace pleasantries had the audience roaring with laughter, because it felt real and relatable. There is a scene where Purdy is trying to continue to work on the house on his own without Acorn (who was a carpenter) and even with minimal dialogue it was hysterically funny. It added this outrageously amusing almost slap-stick element to the play which I wasn’t anticipating but absolutely adored. On the other hand, listening to them recite poetry to one another or watching Acorn find inspiration in the forest was beautiful. The stories they told one another, be they by poetry or prose, had such depth of feeling that I was totally engrossed their speech. I couldn’t imagine a better pairing to portray these charming and compelling men.
Joanna Yu’s set and costume design were magnificent. I loved the use of negative space to create the work-in-progress A-Frame cabin. The hanging pieces of paper which would glow with inspiration for Acorn were magical. Every element came together in such a clear and recognizable vision, I was truly taken to that peaceful cabin in the woods.
For me personally, there were some elements of this play that hit really close to home in the best of ways. Yee infused this play with so many references to the literary community, both Canadian and at large, that I was just tickled. Acorn mentions Michael Ondaatje as “that kid” right off the top of the show and I couldn’t contain my laughter. It’s good to remember that every great artist you admire has started off as “that kid” to someone else in the business. Their critiques of Academia also had me howling. Clearly not much has changed since 1959 because I could absolutely relate to every criticism and observation they had from my time as a Literature Major in University. However, a more heartfelt message I took home from Among Men was from the last discussion Purdy and Acorn have in the play about validation and creation. I like the idea that being called a poet isn’t some title bestowed upon a writer from academia or elsewhere, it can be applied simply for the fact that one writes poetry. And this can be applied to every aspect of life, you are what you are because of what you do. I am a theatre critic because I review theatre, simple as that; it is unbelievably liberating.
I honestly cannot recommend this show enough. It’s thoughtful, engaging, witty, and wonderful. Among Men runs at Factory Theatre until May 15. You can purchase tickets at among men — Factory Theatre Factory Theatre has several pricing options for their tickets so that they are accessible to everyone which is GREATLY appreciated.
Thanks to Factory Theatre for inviting me to their Opening Night and providing the photos by Dahlia Katz