Seeing these three plays over a five-hour period (a mere bagatelle compared to Tonight at 8:30’s ten-pack in a single day, cross-reference below), marvellously demonstrated the skill sets of those responsible and opened a window into the next generation of playwrights and performers.
Room for Improvement
Artists on the Couch
How curious: Just a day after viewing Alan Zweig’s incredibly honest portrait of seasoned inmates trying to survive (and remain) in “normal” society (cross-reference below) comes Richard Varty’s dark comedy that focuses on mandated psychotherapy as the key to rehabilitating first-time offenders of serious crimes.
Two patients are forced into each other’s company (psychiatrists’ rule of thumb: design the schedule and exit/enter doors in such a way that those under care never meet their colleagues) due to their shrink’s delay of couch time. It seems he’s got a difficult case at the current “Session in Progress” that’s hitting its peak—routine maintenance will just have to wait.
Sex-aholic Ethan (Matthew Viviano shows considerable talent for mime, method and mayhem) gradually gets to know Patty (Gillian Fournier plays the copywriter for an upscale women’s magazine who suddenly abandons her “perfect wife” existence by beating hubby nearly to death with a tea kettle drawing on a wide range of tone and emotion).
Keeping literal score and fashioning company-rich twelve folds of her own is The Receptionist. Jenna Mae is haughty enough but more depth to her threats of systemic retribution and literary quotes (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World provides deft, if obscure to many, situational reinforcement) would better prepare the way for the surprises to come.
The “don’t go there” character is Paul. Like Ethan, he’s a troubled artist, suffering horrific nightmares and lack of fulfillment—even from his muse. During a well-staged flashback to a key session, The Doctor (Dylan Mawson has the right demeanour, yet can’t find a convincing “white coat” flow while ministering to the discontents) pronounces Paul cured then immediately dismisses him with a perfectly tossed supply of sleeping pills to quell the horrific dreams.
But before you can say “A Clockwork Orange,” yet another chorus of “Singing in the Rain” accompanies the failing creator’s last canvas. Geoffrey Heaney fires on all cylinders as his internal angst morphs into an extremely pervasive “so there.”
Director/writer Richard Varty provides workmanlike results in the former (the too-abrupt sound shifts spoil the flow as surely as the “sketchy” intonation of the anonymous strings disturb the tummy; more careful attention to the rendering of the lighting plot would bring the characters closer to the audience at critical junctures), but is a talent to be reckoned with in the latter.
It takes courage to open any production with a clean-the-stage segment (intriguingly—and of course unintentionally—echoed four hours later when the overjoyed couple takes possession of their cursed home) that both plods and puzzles (a little choreography with that, please?). No worries: the cyclical payoff at the end of the journey speaks silent volumes.
The comedy/drama balance—once the leads take stage—makes the time vanish in a flash. Stirring together sight gags (a cup-less water cooler gets things going only to become a hilarious target for Ethan’s Humpday confession/re-enactment), dry asides (the crack about The Doctor’s profession of sitting and listening to people should have drawn more laughs from the audience doing the same) and riveting recollections/revelations demonstrates an early maturity that makes Varty’s next production an event to anticipate with great interest. JWR
The Animal Show
Death of a Kitten
Katie Hood’s one-woman, biographical-confessional piece works on many levels from the plight of animals through struggling relationships to lack of justice for those who wilfully shirk responsibility.
Challenges abound. As an actor, Hood convincingly presents a covey of characters whether spoken, imagined or mimed. Most notable is her vivid portrayal of animal shelter co-worker, chain-smoking dyke, Kristy.
The heartless edicts from budget-cutting (death-ensuring) management have just the right tone of systemic b. s. trumping the rights and lives of the weak and less fortunate (it’s a snap to appreciate the parallels in human emergency rooms). Only cat-in/cat-out, year-long boyfriend Johnny lacks enough individualism to ensure the instant identification of the initially paws-over-heels lover. But perhaps those moments were too close to home.
Director Paul Hutcheson proves to be a master of invention. With props limited to a flip chart, Hood’s emergency vest and an especially poignant memento from Kumu—the last creature to meet his tragic fate—the slight bits of business, sparse music (the upbeat chart nearly ending the show prior to the “How to make it [relationship] work” segment) and especially effective lighting, the performance seldom flags as Hood exorcises her past and engagingly entertains pet owners of all stripes. (The Shiatsu gag had the crowd in stiches.)
The only serious concern stems from shutting down the proceedings with a rhetorical question of doubt. Perhaps there’s a more satisfying way of summing up the somewhat artificially imposed Four Phases [adapted from an essay of the same name by Doug Fakkema that informed the structure] before letting the audience members come to their own conclusions.
Still, it’s an experience that ought to be widely seen—then Hood shouldn’t hesitate to go on to the next! JWR
An appetite for farce
Script development by committee (especially when the members are also the cast) is most democratic but—necessarily—waters down a singular, overarching view.
What is The Nona? Farce, Theatre of the Absurd or Kafkaesque nightmare?
As actors, the players uniformly provide many memorable moments. Amy Teetzel’s Laura is an engaging study of desperation as her dream of home-sweet-home turns into huge debt, an empty fridge and an unwanted funeral. Little wonder she is pushed into a moment of murderous intent.
Husband Jim has a worthy advocate in Graham Shaw, infusing a wonderfully affable manner into his scenes even as the unexpected “Italian grandmother” wreaks havoc in their household. The couple’s interactions (especially the shared looks of love, lust or despair) are superb. Still, the extended wrestling match and “Sorry for your balls” line seem over the top for all that precedes them.
Fede Holten Andersen is a constant pleasure as The Nona. With lines that are reduced to items of food and an old-lady shuffle that bustles in the storied tradition of Mrs. Doubtfire, there are many funny moments that—at this performance—had the younger set roaring in the aisles. None better than her/his tour to various “Mania” restaurants. The one blemish along that culinary path being the little lobsters on a stick, only to be immediately forgotten when the biggest lobster in the world began to enjoy the amorous affections of the octogenarian. More, please.
Max Holten Andersen’s mallet-rich score was initially a bounty of colour and movment. Yet a playback volume set a tad too high and its—eventually—incessant interventions lost the chance for deft underscoring with too much of a good thing.
Come for the laughs, but be prepared to leave wondering just what was intended after all was said and fun. JWR