Mustard: For healing the mind, body and soul

Mustard, graphic by William Innes

Kat Sandler’s 2016 Dora Award-winning play is being showcased by the University of Waterloo’s Theatre and Performance Program from March 23 – 26 at the Theatre of the Arts, including a live-streamed showing on March 25 at 12 p.m., and it’s a spectacle you don’t want to miss. 

At its core, Mustard is a play about love, loss, leaving and letting go. It’s a tale about friendship, relationships — be they parent-child, husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend — growing up, moving on and finding magic where you least expect it. Mustard promises to make its audience giggle, cry, and in the words of guest-director Liza Balkan, “leave the theatre feeling buoyant.”

Mustard features a dysfunctional household with three central characters: a mother, Sadie, and a daughter, Thai, both of whom are dealing with their own versions of emotional breakdowns, and Thai’s imaginary friend, Mustard, who has overstayed his welcome. Along the way, the audience is introduced to Thai’s boyfriend, Jay, her absent father, Bruce, and two extraordinary ‘boons,’ Bug and Leslie, who have come from a dark and scary land called Boonswallows to take Mustard back with them. 

What makes these characters compelling is their relatability and colorfulness — as the story progresses, the audience is privy to new shades of the characters’ personalities, including their insecurities, cleverness and aspirations. Balkan, a Dora Award-winning actress herself, shared a similar sentiment. 

“What’s so amazing about this play is that everyone will relate to the different characters very differently. Some audience members may connect with Mustard and the idea of an imaginary toy coming to life. Parents could connect with Sadie. Some students will connect with Thai. I’m remembering being sixteen and [experiencing] the challenges of a first love. I think everyone will connect very personally to at least one character if not more” she mused.

Balkan, who also moonlights as a writer, teacher and dancer, could not pick a favourite character. 

“I adore them all! I adore Mustard because he is so present, like a child — there’s no filter. You say what you say and that’s so beautiful and [it’s] so wonderful watching this magical character navigate figuring out growing up in their human world. But I relate most to Sadie, this woman [who] is trying to figure out how to be a good parent, how to have a life herself and let go of a relationship.”

What sets Mustard apart from other plays is the fantasy world it creates on stage and around the audience. Kat Sandler’s writing blurs imagination with reality, which coaxes the audience to lower their walls and give in to the wonder they indulged in their childhood, including remembering their own imaginary friends. 

The production team further offers the audience a chance to experience wonder by inviting them to engage with an installation that reflects Mustard’s theatrical points of emphasis in the engagement space 30 minutes prior to the production. Simultaneously, spectators in the theatre gallery are invited to immerse themselves in a thematic display meant to extend the world of the play into the world right in front of them. 

For a comic-tragic play that can be goofy and silly at times, Mustard also explores the serious and scary things that come hand-in-hand with growing up, including divorce, alcoholism, suicide, mental health and teen pregnancy, which can be violent, tragic, funny, and magical all at once. 

When asked about her favourite scene in the play, Balkan said, “There is a very magical date scene that is very surprising and filled with a lot of hope, desire, surprise, confusion, open-hearted confession and magic. I [also] adore the scene between Thai, Jay and Mustard where a couple is having a very personal heavy-duty conversation [with] Mustard interjecting, and only one of those other two people can hear him — that’s definitely a very fun and challenging scene.”

In our conflict-stricken world, it’s become a rare commodity to be able to sit in a room and laugh, think and feel communally. Mustard aims to create such a room. Even though it tackles some heavy-duty themes, Mustard doesn’t provide any tidy resolutions or easy answers about love, family, and the lies we tell ourselves about loneliness, feeling needed, and the reality of growing up. Instead, it reminds us of our humanity, our struggles and our joys. 

For anyone struggling with leaving comfort zones, changing comfort zones, changing relationship dynamics and just growing up in general, Mustard will find a spot in any of those people’s hearts.

Tickets for Mustard are priced at $15 for General Public, $10 for Students and Seniors and $5 via eyeGO. You can get your tickets at the box office by calling 519-888-4908 or visiting the box office website.