SummerWorks 2012: Dumbo Squid

Birdtown and Swanville’s Dumbo Squid offers an unsettling glimpse into psychopathic minds

Presented by Birdtown and Swanville
Written by Aurora Stewart de Pena
Directed by Charlotte Gowdy

Nika Mistruzzi and Kaleb Alexander in Dumbo Squid. Photo by James Di Donato.

A filthy old couch and a flickering overhead light set the stage upon which violent, dark and disturbing themes take place. Now playing as part of this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival, Dumbo Squid is a bold, gritty drama centered around a passionate, yet vicious relationship and the terrible consequences that ensue.


Although Nika Mistruzzi’s character’s name is mentioned several times, it is always covered up by a sound not unlike a censor in a television show. Clad in a dirty undershirt, shorts and beat-up sneakers, Mistruzzi is simply known as “The Girlfriend.” When the audience meets her for the first time, she has just awakened from an intoxicated slumber, her makeup smudged and her stomach growling. A terrible, desperate banging is heard from offstage, silenced by a small whimper, and “The Boyfriend” (Kaleb Alexander) comes to his girlfriend’s side, reassuring her that the banging was in her head. The dialogue between The Girlfriend and The Boyfriend is that of two people in love, but it is clear that The Boyfriend is the authoritative figure, as he is constantly menacing and violent toward his significant other, hitting her more than once and even turning the couch over while she’s sitting on it.


When he goes out to pick up a pizza, The Girlfriend hears a voice from offstage, who is the source of the banging from the basement. A little girl is being kept down there, who the audience learns is The Girlfriend’s cousin, a sixth-grader named Agatha (Jackie Rowland). It is through their conversation—with Agatha still offstage—that The Girlfriend reveals her horrible past as a foster child, a past that looks even worse next to Agatha’s “Justin Bieber, One Direction, straight A life.” The Girlfriend is capable of serious violence, and even murder, as is illustrated in the feelings she shares. Agatha, by comparison, talks at length about her fascination with starlings and how she has found a way to communicate with them, as well as fish and how they are not so different from humans. It is clear from The Girlfriend’s reactions to Agatha’s musings that she wishes she could be as innocent and pure, enjoying life and being happy.


When The Boyfriend returns, Dumbo Squid enters its darkest moments. A terrible plan is revealed, one that is alluded to several times in the story whenever a small, pink cell phone rings and Agatha begs The Girlfriend to answer it. The Boyfriend is the driving force behind the plan, and although The Girlfriend clearly does not want to go through with it, she is submissive to him, as she always has been.


The audience comes away from Dumbo Squid feeling exhausted and haunted, as though a small piece of each character in the story has stayed with them. This connection to the production is a testament to the show’s well-developed characters and storyline, which play on the viewer’s mind long after the stage has gone dark.


Dumbo Squid runs until August 19 at the Scotiabank Studio Theatre. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.


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