by Lynn on January 11, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

Part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

At the Factory Theatre

Written and co directed by Paul Van Dyck
Co-directed by Sara Rodriquez
Set by Peter Vatsis
Costumes by Melanie Michaud
Lighting by Jody Burkholder
Cast: David Baby
Julia Borsellino
Eric Davis
Patricia Summersett
Paul Van Dyck
Alex Weiner

A wild and woolly western with quick on the draw dialogue, engaging storytelling and a final scene that has you gasping for air. Mighty fine goin’ there, partner.

The Story. The Jackson gang (composed of Jackson and Mitchell) have committed a robbery. Jackson celebrated by engaging Cassandra, one of the local ladies in some nightly relaxation. Come morning Jackson, Cassandra and the money are gone. Mitchell, the sheriff and Iris, Cassandra’s sister, go looking for them. They didn’t count on what they found.

The Production. Writer Paul Van Dyck has a wonderful facility with language and can conjure the world of the Wild West. It’s a combination of courtly and Wild West speech. There are turns of phrases right off the range. There is a scene that is so full of tension—guns are pointing at several people. The dialogue and volume are ramped up. That thumping you hear is your heart that ramps up too, wondering how this will end.

The production is co-directed by Paul Van Wyck (who also plays a part) and Sara Rodriqguez. Two directors? Yes and you will see why that’s necessary. The timing, the pacing and the escalating angst culminate in a rip-roaring scene that is both harrowing and hilarious. Van Wyck as a writer has a dandy imagination and a sense of the macabre.

As Mitchell, Eric Davis is the strong silent type that sassy women like Iris find attractive. When he does talk it’s articulate, thoughtful, and controlled. As Iris, Patricia Summersett is confident, sensual and pines for Mitchell. She is also caring and protective of her sister Cassandra. As Cassandra, Julia Borsellino has her secrets and they are revealed ever so slowly. The cast is fine. The production is a romp.

All Our Yesterdays

Written and directed by Chloé Hung
Set by Frank Teo
Sound by Gordon Hyland
Costumes by Ling-Yee Chee
Cast: Chiamaka Umeh
Amanda Weise

An interesting idea until it goes haywire at the halfway point and continues to become more and more eyebrow-knitting. A ruthless re-write is in order.

The Story. Ladi and Hasana are sisters. Ladi is the oldest. They live in Nigeria. They have been kidnapped together by Boko Haram. Ladi has been sexually assaulted and it appears she is to be married to one of their kidnappers. They are both kept in his hut. The play flits from the present to scenes of their memory. Both girls fret about what to do. Hasana has a plan. It’s drastic.

The Production. The set bare. The girls sit on the floor. Ladi was thought to be bright enough to go to school. Hasana was not thought to be smart enough and was kept at home. In the hut though, in the present, she shows she is fascinated with numbers, figures, astronomy, literature when connected with numbers. She is constantly drawing circles on the floor for the planets’ orbits; noting numbers and their importance. As Hasana, Chiamaka Umeh is focused, driven, in control, in command of the situation, and you believe she could get them out of this mess.

She does not like to be touched, so there is a suggestion Hasana is autistic. There is a note in the Next Stage Theatre Festival brochure that suggests that. She certainly is focused on figures. What is also clear is that she is whip-smart; quick thinking, and therefore not what we are told she is, namely, not smart. Hmm, a puzzlement.

Ladi, on the other hand naturally frets about having to marry one of the captors they call “ugly goat.” Ladi is obviously not as smart as her sister and doesn’t make decisions easily. Indeed because of how Chloé Hung has written and directed the character and how Amanda Weise has to play her, Ladi’s last act doesn’t ring true. Another puzzlement.

Hung also reveals another stunning revelation involving Hasana that comes from no where. Again, eyebrow-knitting.

Comment. All Our Yesterdays won the 2015 Toronto Fringe Patron’s Pick. And as Next Stage suggests this gives the production a chance to go to the next stage. For me that would mean to fix the glaring errors in the storytelling. That doesn’t seem to have been done. One wonders why? I guess when the patrons pick you as their favourite no improvement is necessary. Think again, please.

There is a hole in the play that you can drive a tractor through. We learn half-way through that Ladi did something startling. It comes from no where, substantiated by nothing. We hear more and more information after the fact that tries to support Ladi’s startling decision. The information is ill-placed. Even if the play flits back and forth from the past to the present there should be some clues in the memory scenes that support the future. Playwright Chloé Hung’s placement of this information is ill-conceived.

I can appreciate wanting to investigate the horror of the Boko Haram kidnappings and their implications. Chloé Hung touches on a women’s position in Nigerian culture; gender issues; how women are treated; sibling rivalry etc. I just wish that this play lived up to its hype. It needs a serious re-write to make any sense and not just to play on the emotions as a result of the event.

A Man Walks Into A Bar

Written by Rachel Blair
Directed by David Matheson
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Cast: Rachel Blair
Blue Bigwood-Mallin

A play that goes from being annoying to disturbing.

The Story and Production. The Woman wants to tell her joke about a man who walks into a bar. The Man offers suggestions on how to flesh out the story behind the joke. The Man wants The Woman to describe the man who walks into the bar. They re-enact the story. The man walks into the bar and a waitress (The Woman) serves him; chats him up etc. He comes back several times. There are more interactions. It looks like the man in the bar is interested in the waitress. As The Man offers The Woman more suggestions on how to tell the story and play the roles, the roles become blurred. Is it the man in the bar who is offended by the waitress’ attitude towards him, or is it The Man who is offended by The Woman telling a joke in which the man is the butt of the joke? Matters turn creepy as the play turns darker.

As The Woman, Rachel Blair is breezy and accommodating. As The Man, Blue Bigwood-Mallin flashes a toothy smile and a bit of a swagger. I don’t believe his bonhomie. There is a bar. The body language of each suggests a familiarity of the characters as time goes on. But when the play takes a darker turn, the body language becomes something else. The audience is taken to a darker place.

Comment. In her program note playwright Rachel Blair said that she originally wrote the play in anger. She was angry because she was ‘struggling to be heard, struggling to move past issues that you wish had been solved decades ago.” I read this to mean gender issues; men/women issues and perceptions.

I say at the beginning that the play is annoying. That’s because both The Woman and The Man feel it necessary to deconstruct the joke to its many and various components. Why they would think the audience needs to see it is a question. That it leads to the darker side of the story is perhaps the reason for lulling us with all the minutiae of the joke. It’s an interesting exercise. What is clear is that neither The Man nor The Woman understands how to tell a joke, or how to take one.

Presented by Next Stage Theatre Festival

At the Factory Theatre until January 17.

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