by Lynn on January 11, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

Final Reviews of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

At Factory Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Over the last two days I’ve seen the remaining five shows in this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival. It’s the 12 day festival in January of one act plays that take their creators to the next stage in the show’s development.

This year’s selection offered an interesting mix of genres and subjects, with a dance piece (Pulse) added for good measure. In an earlier posting I talked about the first five shows I saw. This posting covers the last five.

Again, the mix is eclectic. For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard  by Michael Ross Albert, tries very hard to be a whacky comedy about a dysfunctional family—adultery, familial resentment and guilt, delusional plans and really lousy kitchen renovations factor heavily. Success in attaining its wacky, funny goal is fleeting.  While the cast is valiant the whining, grating characters make it hard going. I wasn’t sure that even Kathy Blanchard, whoever she is, could have helped.

Myth of the Ostrich by Matt Murray. Holly is a single mother and  writer who is blocked. Pam is a devoted mother who is curious about the girl-friend her son is seeing. Holly is the ‘girl’s’ mother. Pam drops by for a visit. Pam is unhappy. She moved with her husband and children from a small town to the big city of Toronto. Her husband calls her frequently with instructions. Cheryl is a friend of Holly’s who drops by on her rounds to sell ‘cookies.’  Not your ordinary cookies either. Questions of identity, good parenting, sexual permissiveness and experimentation are explored. The cast of Astrid Van Wieren (Holly), Alanis Peart (Pam) and Reneé Hackett (Cheryl) have comedy chops, timing, subtlety and minute reactions that are hilarious. Steven Gallagher directs with a deft hand.

Mine by Jenna Harris is a bitter-sweet look at the beginning, development, and rocky road of a relationship between Woman A (Abbey) and Woman B (Bea). They meet in a bar. Initially sex attracts them. Then the need to belong, be loved, respected and valued is added. Harris’s writing is spare, almost poetic and lyrical. At times I thought Harris could have used an additional scene or two to make transitions not so jarring and developments not seem to come out of left field. But on the whole it’s a touching work. Kudos to Jenna Harris as Bea, awkward, shy, uptight, and in the end, confident, and Michelle Polak as Abbey, sensual, extroverted, wounded, and intriguing. It’s nicely directed by Clinton Walker.

Big Shot written and performed by Jon Lachlan Stewart is a look at life and in a way,  the movie business. A young boy loves nothing but going to the movies. He wishes his life was like an action movie. Another man, a recovering addict, is just trying to keep away from drugs. He gets invited to a party with lots of film people and much temptation. He gets into an altercation with a hip, cool guy with a black blazer who is trying to pitch film ideas to those at the party. There is trouble on a subway. These characters and others are all connected. Jon Lachlan Stewart and his director Georgina Beaty have tackled a huge undertaking with words poring out of all of Stewart’s characters. Hip, gritty, slang-filled dialogue varies with each character. Stewart segues from character to character with energy, dexterity, and athleticism. The co-ordination of projections, intricate lighting, and performance is impressive. But I couldn’t help but think it was an exercise to impress. And I couldn’t help noticing that I was in a theatre watching an actor-writer create the world of the movies. Something is wrong with that picture.

Unbridled & Unstable written and performed by Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton are quirky observations about off-the wall ideas and subjects. This gifted duo examine such subjects as: the book club in which the only woman there is interrogated by the dark-thinking leader of the club; how to make sounds like a true foley artist; the wild game of charades one monk must conduct with another who has taken a vow of silence; a plastic surgeon who is obsessed with horses and wants to enhance his patients with equine looks. Some skits miss—the one involving audience participation and a wheel of fortune can be cut. Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton write with wit, style, whimsy, a keen sense of humour and puns and a subtle literary bent—including a reference to “The Gift of the Magi” is inspired. As performers they are compelling, stylish, fierce, focused and very funny. More please.

Toronto Fringe Festival presents the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Opened: January 7, 2015

Closes: January 18, 2015

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