University of Victoria Fine Arts and Theatre alumni Sam Mullins laid portions of his life bare on stage at the Phoenix Theatre during the opening night of Weaksauce and Other Stories.
This soul-searching biographical collection of tales from his adolescence, teenage years, young adulthood and fatherhood left the audience and this reviewer grinning a lot and laughing out loud at times. His down-to-earth delivery and willingness to reflect on sometimes painful memories came across as refreshing and honest and kept the audience with him.
The pre-intermission stories are entertaining and relatable coming-of-age tales focusing on his early love life. The longest of those, his longtime Fringe entry Weaksauce – originally a reference to a poorly delivered hockey pass, now simply a word meaning “lame” – recounts 16-year-old Sam’s hockey camp romance of, and loss of virginity with, his first real love, Amanda and his frustration with fellow camp counsellor and rival for Amanda’s affections, pompous Brit David Oliver.
While this detailed story took time to develop – maybe a little too long – later in Weaksauce Mullins grabbed my attention detailing a field trip with hockey camp kids to a wild animal park. Their school bus encounter with a family of baboons, which quickly went from Sam making a soulful connection with a mother ape through the windshield, to the horror of a big male reaching through an open window trying to choke him, was edge-of-your-seat fun and hilarious; storytelling at its finest.
Round 2 after intermission saw Mullins relay a touching story of how his father Bill Mullins, on a business trip to the Carolinas, had a chance meeting with future pro baseball star Josh Hamilton and helped inspired him to greatness. A father-son sidebar about the death of a Texas baseball fan, who fell 20 feet reaching for a ball tossed toward the stands by Hamilton, was added for impact and did the trick.
Later stories about making a tin-foil dinosaur – from Mullins’ post-graduate restaurant server days – and his battle with rats in his home in Toronto left this reviewer quietly cheering for Sam and anxiously awaiting the next line in the story. He didn’t disappoint, delivering punch lines that made his life experiences hilarious.
Weaksauce and Other Stories plays nightly at 8 p.m. through Oct. 19 at the Phoenix Theatre. Tickets, $15-$28, and show information are available online at finearts.uvic.ca or at the theatre box office on campus. Mullins sticks around for a talk-back session with the audience after every show.