Review: Into the Den

Personal Trainor

Review | by Sean McQuaid 

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Accomplished PEI stage and screen veteran Dennis Trainor is a longtime ensemble contributor who is seldom billed as a solo star. A far fuller picture of Dennis awaits intrepid audiences in his new one-man show, Into the Den.

Staged at bar1911 this June, Into the Den is an oft-comedic monologue divided into two sets by a brief intermission. Trainor has described the show’s digressive, anecdotal structure as “a premeditated stream of consciousness” and says he embarked on the project as a personal artistic challenge upon entering his 50s.

The show often feels like and functions as something akin to standup comedy, but also gets meditative, introspective and philosophical in spots. Dissecting his creation’s somewhat self-referential title, Trainor ruminates on the nature and meaning of dens both mental and physical, from animal dens (reflected in the show’s jungle cat-flavoured set dressing) to the various physical and mental dens we construct as humans, memorably summing up the den as “the place where comfort and danger collide.”

Some of it’s deeper or darker than audiences might expect from a performer known for his comedies. Trainor talks about the Mi’kmaq’s exclusion from Confederation, how advancing technology changes us as people and as a society, how accepting our own imperfection ironically helps us evolve into the most nearly perfect versions of ourselves. There’s plenty of smart, thoughtful reflection here.

There’s also lots of crass, lowbrow humour, like a seemingly endless running gag about off-colour interpretations of the name Seaman’s Beverages (the crowd mostly loved it, though The Simpsons did the same thing faster and funnier with a naughtily nautical Waylon Smithers’ assertion that “women and seamen don’t mix”). The back half of Trainor’s show in particular works relentlessly blue to diminishing returns, spawning more awkward autoeroticism gags than the average Donald Trump flag molestation.

Whether he’s aiming low or high, Trainor is a naturally funny, unpretentiously engaging performer who forges and sustains an easy, friendly rapport with his audience. He’s also got a good rapport with stage manager/sidekick Kelly Caseley. Cool and quietly funny, Caseley adds value via occasional passive-aggressive banter, a uniquely awkward introduction and by lurking stylishly in the background as an amused observer.

The focus is mostly on “the Den” himself, though, and he wears that spotlight well, whether using it to create characters like his vividly funny impression of a meme addict or, more often, skewering comically exaggerated aspects of himself. That self-revelatory, self-mocking side of the show makes it as gutsy as it is funny, yet another reason to consider a trip Into the Den.

ComedyDennis TrainorreviewSean McQuaid
Sean McQuaid

Mild-mannered Hansard reporter by day and oddball freelance writer by night, past Buzz editor Sean McQuaid has been a contributor since the '90s and a theatre enthusiast for longer than that. He lives in Charlottetown with his wife, daughter, cats and untold thousands of comic books.