Reviews: NEXT STAGE THEATRE FESTIVAL: Possessed, Strange and Unusual and Dinner with the Duchess

by Lynn on January 10, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Next Stage Theatre Festival has begun its 12 day, 12 play festival at the Factory Theatre. (Jan 9-20). The heated tent is up; the hot chocolate and stronger drinks are at the ready and the folks who organize the festival and the volunteers are as helpful and charming as ever.

The shows cover a range of plays, one-person works, dance pieces and even an esoteric magic show. It’s a festival that presents new and notable artists who are stretching their theatre muscles and ours. Here’s a rundown of my first day.


Created and performed by Diana Bang

Directed by Dawn Milman

Sarah Kim is lost and unhappy. She begins by performing various rituals that came from an ancient eastern tradition with Korean shamanism added.  She enlists the audience’s involvement to summon the gods in a particular way. Her mother committed suicide at 35 years-old and Sarah conjures the memory of her grandmother, her uncle, her great aunt (her grandmother’s older sister) and finally her mother to help her come to grips with what is bothering her. Sarah feels she must be possessed first to find her way out of her malaise.

Director Dawn Milman has written an intriguing and odd program note suggesting the play asks the following questions: “can an ancient eastern tradition translate to a modern Western context? Is there room for Korean shamanism in our modern society? Is Sarah’s lack of direction in life really due to her shutting the doors to these sacred arts? Can she make amends and heal her life? Will Sarah’s relationship with the spirits cause her to lose or gain status?”

These are all interesting questions and as I said “odd” since the play that Diana Bang has written does not actually address any of them. From what I gleaned from it Sarah is the same age as her mother when her mother committed suicide. That suicide seems to be the defining moment in Sarah’s life (not too surprising). Why did it happen? Why does Sarah conjure up the spirits of her grandmother, uncle and great aunt and her mother to guide her? She says at the end of some frantic conjuring that she can now begin her journey.

While Diana Bang is an engaging performer and the play has a kernel of an intriguing idea, more work needs to be done to clarify it. If this is Sarah’s journey why is the audience engaged by shaking a bell (we are each given gauzy material with a bell sewn into it to shake) to arouse the gods? If the whole question of the mother’s suicide is introduced at the top of the show then shouldn’t that be the focus of the play and not musings that veer off from that?  As I said, there is a kernel of an interesting idea for the play. I would like to see the play develop that kernel.

Strange and Unusual

Created by Nick Wallace and Luke Brown

Directed by Luke Brown

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Cast: Nick Wallace

Vicktoria Adam

Nick Wallace stands in front of us, relaxed, natty in a sports jacket, shirt, tie and nice slacks. He is charming, almost laid back—the better to suck us in to his world of ‘weird things’ and “how-did-he-do-that-magic?” He begins by saying that the world is run by logic and facts. I’m thinking, “well ya got that wrong.” The world is run by trickery, slight of hand, conspiracy theories, ideas that don’t make sense but work, intuition, coincidence that can’t be explained, and magic we buy into.

Wallace uses volunteers in the audience to help realize his illusions. There is a card trick that challenges a person’s common sense. There is a trick that seems to render the participant willing to be blindfolded and have stuff done to them that I won’t explain cause you might faint. There’s another trick involving Oreo cookies, milk and a well-placed something in the cookie that shouldn’t be there. Again, I won’t describe it because you might ‘loose your cookies.’

Wallace is very smooth in his magic and his languid story-telling. There is a ‘wow’ factor to his illusions and his playing with ones imagination and willingness to suspend disbelief. I just have to wonder why a magic show, accomplished though it is, is doing at this festival. And since there were too many technical difficulties on this opening night perhaps the whole endeavor should be rethought and simplified.


Allegra Fulton
Photo: Dahlia Katz


Dinner with the Duchess

Written by Nick Green

Directed by Geordie Johnson

Set and costumes by Christine Urquhart

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Cast: Allegra Fulton

David Jansen

Rosie Simon

Margaret is a virtuoso violinist who is giving her last interview to Helen, an up and coming journalist. With no fanfare, announcement or celebratory party, Margaret is retiring from performing in the orchestra where she is first violin or performing solo etc.

The interview takes place in the condo she shares with her husband David. Margaret gives Helen the tour of the condo, pointing out object d’art that she picked out and David hates. Margaret’s speeches are peppered with little darts of comments that are self-deprecating, playful and very telling as the play goes on. Helen is invited to dinner that is store bought but David will add his little touches, lemons and their zest factor heavily.

Margaret is assuming the interview will be easy and unchallenging but with questions that veer away from the usually banal, “how did you get started?” etc. We soon learn Helen has other ideas. Helen is very cool, confident and focused. She is not an easy pushover. She asks Margaret uncomfortable questions. “How did she get the nickname “The Duchess”? Margaret is startled by the question and won’t answer it. We are therefore curious about what is beneath Margaret’s charming veneer.

Geordie Johnson has directed an exquisite production that is simple and elegant. He has an eye for the arresting image—Margaret in silhouette behind gauzy curtains at the top of the production is one such image in a production full of them. The subtle touches of a character’s side-long glance at something being said speaks volumes.

Allegra Fulton fills the part of Margaret with sleek sophistication and classiness that slowly gives way to the cracks in her veneer. This is a character haunted by slights and humiliations. As David, David Jansen is a charming man who is not timid about lobbing a well placed, delicate cutting remark. We see that all is not rosy in that relationship. Rosie Simon is quietly fierce as Helen. She’s barracuda hunting a juicy story. Rumor and innuendo are her sources. Rarely does she quote another source for the truth. Helen is terrifying and Margaret doesn’t stand a chance.

Nick Green has fashioned a fascinating story of an artist obsessed with playing and making music and what she had to endure to get to the top. His dialogue is bracing. Sometimes though speeches seem to come from nowhere, especially at the end of the play, when Margaret is alone and muses on the slights and insults she endured because she was a woman in a man’s game. I think a clearer, cleaner bridge to the rest of the play would help in making those transitions smoother.

I was glad of the chance to see this accomplished cast and director with this intriguing play.

The Next Stage Theatre Festival continues until Jan. 20.



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