What Happens in Toco’s opening night in the Central Bank Auditorium on Thursday 8th June 2016 was packed. Advertised extensively as a hilarious comedy featuring two of Trinidad’s best actors; Raymond Choo Kong and Cecilia Salazar, the expectations going in were high. What Happens in Toco was funny, as Raymond Choo Kong Productions are wont to be; it had interesting characters, and there was a fittingly ridiculous premise and story- and while it fulfilled some aspects of those high expectations, in some areas it felt like the play fell just short.
The play was about an older couple, Frank and Peggy (Choo Kong and Salazar), who have their Toco vacation interrupted by the arrival of a much younger couple, Jill and Tony (Syntyche Bishop and Trevon Jugmohan). After an accidental double booking and the dubious influence of a night of champagne, Frank invites the young couple to stay the weekend. What follows is a humorous and sometimes sentimental look at how these two vastly different couples deal with their contrasts in age, class and philosophies on life and love.
The four actors in the play, as usual, delivered splendid performances. Choo Kong was delightful as Frank, the curmudgeonly self made businessman who acts like he was “born wearing a tie.” Frank is a beer over champagne kinda guy- that is until he is convinced to try the champagne, drinks a copious amount and invites the young couple to stay for the weekend. His grumpiness and anti-romanticism produced some of the funniest moments in the play. When his wife tells him that some people think sex is fun, he responds with an incredulous, “who?!” – an early signifiers of the kind of man Frank is. The scene where he was locked out of the room he loaned the younger couple, the only room with a toilet, was especially hilarious.
However, he wasn’t just a one dimensional grouch. Choo Kong injected some depth into Frank with an interesting monologue a bit into the play. Talking about how age was “pushing us off the edge of the earth,” there was real emotional depth to the delivery of the speech. There was passion in the words as Choo Kong convincingly teared up while saying them. The dimmed lights and somber blue spotlight were a nice touch, adding an air of seriousness to the speech that lent it weight. With all that said, it is to the actors credit that during this somewhat depressing speech he still managed to make the audience laugh. It showed true comedic skill, the kind that transcends physical gags and cheap humor. It showed that comedy could come from something with substance.
Cecilia Salazar was also delightful as Frank’s wife, Peggy. Her character, the middle aged wife growing tired with the monotony of life and marriage and desperate to spice things up with her husband, was interesting and played very well. There were a couple of failed jokes from her but that fault lies more in the script than with the actor. The line with the Titanic reference at the end of the first scene was delivered in a way that felt like it was meant to be a hilarious punchline but failed to generate even a chuckle. Her best moments came when she was at her most emotional, like when she’s unable to deal with frank anymore or even just voicing how fed up she is of the repetitive life she’s come to live.
Syntyche Bishop and Trevon Jugmohan were also pretty decent in their roles. Bishop did the best she could with a just barely interesting character. She did not have as much lines as the other characters but she played the part with enthusiasm. It sometimes felt like her character, Jill, was only there as a prop for her boyfriend Tony (Jugmohan). Tony was interesting enough as a foil to Frank. He played the spoiled, entitled rich boy convincingly and exuded the kind of haughtiness and self importance that made him a good antagonist for a character like Frank. His carpe diem mentality was an interesting contrast for Frank’s more pragmatic and traditional outlook on life. Jugmohan also did well to lend some depth to his character and not play him as a straight antagonist. There were a few moments where he became likable enough to have the audience root for him, which cannot be an easy task when you’re playing such an unlikeable person.
It felt as though the play was at its best when at its most emotional. Peggy’s breaking point, Frank’s speech, Jill’s ultimatum, the jokes that punctuated these heavier moments felt truer and funnier than some of the verbal and physical gags that populated the rest of the play. For a comedy, What Happens in Toco did well to tackle themes like love and marriage, and even the complexities of the great generational divide. Frank’s old school, pragmatism pitted against Tony’s youthful adventurous spirit and his carefree attitude was both entertaining and insightful. Frank’s proclamation that he was born with responsibility sounds familiar to the things real life baby boomers throw against millennials as they attack the younger generation’s seemingly worry free lifestyles.
What Happens in TOCO, Stays in TOCO!” continues 8th -10th July, 2016 at Cipriani Labor College. For Ticket Information call: 477-0772 / 384-8663