Broadcast Text Reviews: The Next Stage Theatre Festival

by Lynn on January 10, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following shows were reviewed Friday, January 9, 2015 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm Next Stage Theatre Festival to January 18 at the Factory Theatre: Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook; Piece by Piece; DINK; Snack Music; Pulse.

The host was Phil Taylor


Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What do you have for us this week?


I have treats from the Next Stage Theatre Festival. It’s an eleven day festival of 10 one act plays by writers who are invited to produce shows that take it to the next stage in development. The Festival started yesterday and continues until Jan. 18.

Of the 10 show, I’ve seen five already. The shows vary from very short—30 minutes to those that are an hour to those that are 90 minutes. The 30 minute shows are called the Antechamber series because they take place in the bar of the theatre, they are calling the Antechamber.


I’m assuming there is a cross-section of subjects and genres in the plays?


Indeed. The two Antechamber shows are both inventive comedies. In Graham Clark Reads the Phonebook Vancouver comedian, Graham Clark, took to heart a reviewer’s comment at a previous fringe show that Mr. Clark was so funny he could read the phonebook and make people laugh.  Well yes, and it helps that the phonebook he was flipping through for us was the Vancouver phone book.  They sure are funny there.

One entry in that phone book involved bears as a category.

I won’t give away his jokes but Mr. Clark has a quirky, intriguing, perceptive way of looking at things and finds humour anywhere it seems, even the phonebook.

The other Antechamber play was Snack Music.

As we filed in and took our seats we were served snacks!

Red liquorice, popcorn, (breakfast squares): some jam on a square of bread with a slice of cheese on it. Grapes, jelly beans, carrots (but no dip). We passed the bowls and plates of snacks around and thus formed a little community.

I loved that idea of community put forward by the company of two puppeteers (Ingrid Hansen and Andrew G. Young) with a musical accompaniment.

Hansen asked for volunteers to tell a short story about the first time—first kiss, first love etc.  Once the person told the story, the two puppeteers would then re-enact the story using improvisation and objects as puppets.

The success of course depends on volunteers and I get the sense that the audience might have been sounded out before hand. In any case the improvisational abilities of Hansen and Young are smart, charming and very funny.


What about the other three shows you saw—is it a cross section of subjects?


It’s more like a cross-section of genres. Pulse is a dance piece in which a dance troupe of 9 dancers, lead by choreographer-creator Jasmyn Fyffe, dance to soul music, most notably the songs of Sam Cook.

At times the dancers come into the audience searching for willing participants—of which there seem to be many.  After a distracting start—some dancing is in the aisles, some on the stage at the same time, I ultimately thought Pulse  to be upbeat, mournful, lively, dramatic, and joyous.

Then there are two plays: DINK written and directed by Caroline Azar and Piece by Piece written by Alison Lawrence.

DINK is an acronym for Double Income No Kids.  It’s about a lot of sprawling stories but one in particular will be familiar.

A decorated military officer named Bill, devoted to his wife Deb, is implicated in the murders of two women soldiers. He apparently also broke into the bedroom of his niece and stole some of her underwear.

We immediately think of the story of Russell Williams, the decorated military officer and former commander of CFB Trenton—who raped and murdered several women in the Belleville area. If only the play actually focused on that one story it might have been more successful.


What was the problem?


First of all writer Caroline Azar is also the director. Who is going to tell the writer that her play is unfocused, unwieldy, over written in some areas and underwritten in other areas?

There are seven characters and they all have their long stories which often spirals off in eye-brow knitting areas.

The play begins with Deb and her sister Lolly getting together for a lunch.  Lolly is jabbing at her food. She’s unhappy in her marriage. Her husband is botoxed and straying. Her daughter is a worry. The sisters are usually at odds. Deb has no children but offers advice. Her marriage is solid. Her husband Bill is devoted. There are two young women who meet in Kandahar.

One is a soldier and one is there selling TIM HORTON coffee and donuts to the soldiers. Bill is the commanding officer there.

Then there is an unhappy cop in an unhappy marriage who is sweet on the young woman who went to Kandahar to sell Tim Hortons. He met her in Ottawa at the Tim Horton’s he frequented.  He will also be the interrogator of Bill when he returns home. Too many stories that deflect from the central one.

Azar also provided songs that commented slightly on the story—surely the story should be enough in this case.

In the program, Caroline Azar questions whether the killer’s wife knew what he was up to, but she has not put that in her play. Pity, it might have helped to create some drama.  If it’s not there we can’t imagine it.

I thought that David Keeley as Bill is a saving grace.  He is commanding, attractive and mysterious. I thought DINK was a disappointment as a play that was trying to tell a compelling story.


And how about Piece by Piece.


The best of the lot I’ve seen so far. Piece by Piece is written by Alison Lawrence and directed by David Ferry.  Lawrence writes about people coping with loss.

Much of it takes place in a hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit, where patients are slowly dying and loved ones are desperate to save them. People are leaving in a sense piece by piece.

It’s where Steffie acts as our narrator. She comments on the comings and goings of the patients and loved ones who keep vigil. Her beloved mother died there and Steffie feels guilty because she wasn’t more supportive.

Her father is coping by drinking.  It’s where Frank, a once respected University Professor, is succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease and his wife Barb is frightened and not very enlightened about the disease.

It’s where Jessie comes to volunteer to take herself out of herself. She has had many miscarriages and the loss is putting a strain on her peace of mind and her marriage. She’s been urged to volunteer at the hospital, to help others.  She does it reluctantly.


It sounds depressing considering the subject matter.


Of course it does but it’s really about life. Death and diminishing is part of life.  I love the subtlety in Alison Lawrence’s writing and in David Ferry’s direction.

Slowly these wounded, grieving people who are left behind, come out of themselves and reach out to the others.

For example, at first Jessie is distant and uninterested in the others in the hospital.  She just re-arranges books on a trolley and doesn’t give too much thought to the folks reaching out to her for her help.

But gradually, she stops to listen. In one wonderful scene Mary Frances Moore as Jessie, stands close to Frank (played beautifully by Terrence Bryant).  He is agitated, confused and could possibly do her harm. She is attentive, relaxed, and giving.  She listens to his concerns and is compassionate to his situation. It’s all there in Moore’s body language, quiet delivery  and Lawrence’s dialogue.

The survivors come to forgiveness in a true way that is not neat. Steffie comes to understand and forgive her father in the second last scene.

She forgives herself in the last scene. I can see why Lawrence ended it that way, but I thought she had said everything that needed to be said by those two characters in the second last scene.

While Steffie forgives herself and conjures the memory of her mother, I don’t think that scene is really necessary. Something to think about for the next re-write for the play.

As it is, Piece by Piece is a fine, poignant piece of writing that tackles thorny questions in sensitive, perceptive ways.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at twitter @slotkinletter

The Next Stage Theatre Festival continues at Factory Theatre until Jan. 18.



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