Under The Apple Tree

A New Musical by Brian Morton is part of the 2018 Hamilton Fringe.

 

Theatre Erebus Inc will be presenting Under The Apple Tree, as part of the 2018 Hamilton Fringe Festival next July.

November 1921, in downtown Hamilton! At the Lyric Theatre on Mary Street, a shooting occurred backstage during the run of a touring musical comedy vaudeville “girlie” act. A brand new musical play, that explores a bit of bygone real life local history. A ‘jazz era’ Hamilton, that is gone but not forgotten.

Casting details and specifics on our schedule and venue will be shared here in the coming months.Cast 1921

 

 

Advertisements

REQUIEM by Jean Coley-Hughes

A play-reading of “REQUIEM”
by Jean Coley-Hughes
Presented by Theatre Erebus Inc.
At the Pearl Company Theatre,
16 Steven Street, Hamilton
Saturday, November 19 @ 2:00 PM

Theatre Erebus Inc. is pleased to announce that it will be presenting a series of staged readings of the work of local Hamilton playwrights. The second play to be read will be REQUIEM by Jean Coley-Hughes, a powerful drama about family secrets and emotional abuse. The play won the 1987 Theatre Focus Playwriting Award, and was developed
and workshopped by Theatre Aquarius founding Artistic Director Peter Mandia. It was first produced in May 1988 by Theatre Focus at their third floor theatre space at 18 John Street North in Hamilton.
The cast for the reading includes Jo Skilton, Rose Pye and Ilene Elkaim. REQUIEM will be directed by Liz Inman, a long time friend and colleague of Jean Coley-Hughes. There will be a talkback discussion after the reading and audience participation is welcomed.
Playwright Jean Coley-Hughes was also a talented director who graduated from the Directing Program at Ryerson Theatre School, she directed productions for Theatre Terra Nova, and several local community theatre companies. Plays she directed included JITTERS by David French, THE OCCUPATION OF HEATHER ROSE by Wendy Lill, and STORIES,
an original play by three reporters for THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR, Paul Bennedetti, Kevin Von Appen and Wayne Macphail. Her work as a visual artist led to several exhibitions, including a retrospective at the Hamilton Public Library Gallery in 2004. She was also an educator who taught English and Drama at Hill Park Secondary School. Jean Coley-
Hughes passed away in August of 2016 and this reading is meant as the first step in seeing the play REQUIEM receive a full production some time in the next eighteen months.
Theatre Erebus is seeking plays from local Hamilton Playwrights to be part of this ongoing series of play readings at the Pearl Company. Anyone interested in submitting a play should visit http://www.theatre-erebus.ca for submission guidelines.
Admission to these readings is free, (although any donations will be gratefully appreciated). Reservations can be made though the Pearl Company Box Office at 905-524-0606

Jane Jacobs’ SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL

 

 

Theatre Erebus has another project starting up – in this case a play of mine that has been sitting in a drawer since 1993.

Jane Jacobs’ SYSTEMS OF SURVIVAL, adapted for the stage by Brian Morton.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, was written by Jane Jacobs in 1992,  The book describes two fundamental and distinct ethical systems, or syndromes as she calls them, that of the Guardian and that of Commerce. They supply direction for the conduct of human life within societies.

We will be doing a public reading of it at the Pearl Company, (16 Steven Street in Hamilton),  on Saturday October 1st at 2:00pm.

It would be great, if you could come listen, and give us some feedback. Theatre Erebus is planning a full production of the play in 2017.

Admission to the reading is free.

This stage adaptation was prepared in the spring of 1993 for a reading at McMaster University, and was created with Jacobs permission and cooperation.

There will be a talk back and discussion after the reading.

2016 Hamilton Fringe, part 5

This is likely the last of the writing I will get to do on productions I have seen in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to see so many very fine productions, as well as the chance to share my thoughts on them.  My thanks to Allison Jones, for re-sharing them beyond my own web-page.

My intention in writing these has been to help direct audience towards productions that they might not have considered seeing, and to find ideas in them that I responded to.   As I am a director and a playwright myself, I have an opinion on the work I see.  Where that opinion has been constructive and might help some future version of the play, I have tried to share that in the hope that it improves the quality of the script.

So that being said we come to

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Written and directed by Olivia Fasullo
Referendum Productions
at The Player’s Guild.

This production, which was the very first one I saw in the festival, presents an original play written by a current McMaster Poly-Sci student Olivia Fasullo.
The story it relates is of a young woman (Emily Wicks) who finds herself as the secretary – (Executive Assistant!) – to the Devil himself, the Dark Archangel, Evil Incarnate, and the demon Beelzebub, most unholy of the unholiest, Lucifer, to give him his full title.

But in this play at least, The Devil prefers being called “Lucy” – and as played by the affable Jack Preston,  he is a reasonable fellow who is tired of an eternity of making sinners suffer.  The Devil is “damned to torment the Damned” so to speak – he is tired of the job of dishing out agony and is looking for a way out of the situation.  As it turns out, Hell is a corporation with a board of directors, and a number of notable sinners are there including Lilith, Charles Ponzi and a gaggle of Lawyers all of whom drive the poor man (poor demon?) crazy.

A tangent – Many years ago I worked on a Theatre Aquarius production of W.O. Mitchell’s THE BLACK BONSPIEL OF WULLIE MACRIMMON.  In that play Macbeth, Judas Iscariot and Guy Fawkes. were the damned that the devil dragged along in tow.  That kind of cultural joke is fun to devise, but can be dated quickly.  A current and more topical list of the damned might have included Ted Cruz, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Donald Trump, with a few suicide bombers thrown in for good measure.   But I digress, so back to the production in hand.

Wicks, Preston and Lisa Weeks are the standouts in what is a strong ensemble. I also greatly appreciated the two lawyers, (from Hell!) played by Daniel Hewko and Chanelle Berlingeri, dressed to the nines they represent the slimy excesses of Wall Street.   It has been said that “Hell is other people” – but in this case Hell is contracts, corporate takeovers and being stuck at a desk for all eternity.

Don’t get me wrong – Forsullo’s play is clever and structurally works quite well in the story it tells.  There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but to have made it more to my taste, I would have liked more specific allusions to Dante, Sartre, and the place of the Devil in popular culture.  The Devil, after all, is one of the most written about icons of all time, in history and religion – only his relatives, “up above” had better press agents.  Twelve of them in fact.

12 press agents = 12 Disciples, 12 apostles…  12 Jewish press agents… Get it now??  It also explains why Jesus Christ was bigger then the Beatles – The Beatles only had one Jewish Press agent! (rimshot).  This kind of humour is slightly offensive – off colour – and is not politically correct, but it can be funny nonetheless…  I really wished some of it was in this play.

The balance between trying to make a specific point about religion and gender politics, about a woman trying to make it in a man’s world, were all hit and that part of the play works.  But I wanted more basic humour in the mix to make the balance perfect.  Perhaps it was just the performance I saw, which admittedly was an early one in the run, but I felt that I wanted more of a connection to the action onstage.  Humour is a good tool to accomplish that.  It is a good rule of thumb, that we tend to like characters that make us laugh – this would also have had us rooting for Lucy and Emily a bit more, which raises the stakes, and pulls us into the performance.

Monty Python, the British comedy troupe from the late 1960s/early 1970s, famously mixed intellectual thought – on society, history and politics – with juvenile school boy toilet humour.  The mix between the two – which don’t really belong together – was what made them so brilliant.  (And I have actually answered exam questions in European History, using the information from Python’s Quiz Show Sketch – the info is academically accurate).

Please add some “Al Pacino”, “Hotel California”, “Spanish Train” and “Linda Blair in The Exorcist” jokes  – indeed a few one liners of almost any kind thrown about every few minutes would have been an improvement in the proceedings.  The play, as it now stands, gives the impression, I think, of taking itself a tad too seriously.   I get that this production is trying to intellectually engage us – which it does – but I wanted to piss myself laughing at the same time.

Hopefully, this Fringe production has a future life.  Writing an original play is not an easy thing to do, I can speak from experience.  I also get that there was some “Millennial” humour here, that perhaps as a Gen X’r I missed.  If so, that is on me.

I really don’t mean to be over critical in writing about this show.  I know for that for director/playwright Olivia Fasullo and her company of performers, that this production is a labour of love for all of them.   I can tell that by their obvious enthusiasm of being part of the festival. I am so very proud that some first time Fringe virgins are at least enjoying themselves so much while performing at the Fringe Festival.  Having met them a few times now, I can also say they are lovely people to have a drink and a conversation with.

Oh and another joke!  Why are opinions like assholes?  Because everyone has one!  Please feel free to ignore mine if you would like.  No malice intended.   And I am sincerely looking forward to your next show.

UNORIGINAL SIN
Carolyn Forbes Productions
At the Player’s Guild.

A different experience was this play, which also springs from the creative energy of McMaster University students.  If John Bandler’s JULI-BEE MOTEL play represents the faculty on campus, then this show full of young, frenetic energy barely contained, represents the student body.

UNORIGINAL SIN, is the work of three playwright/directors, Chanelle Berlingeri, Joel Fleming and Erica Hill, with multimedia from Taylor Caroline.  This production, which also premiered on campus last spring as part of the Honours Performance series, details the experiences of nine twenty-somethings, a mix of men and women, straight, bisexual and gay, and their experiences with “hook up” culture – what we used to call back in my day “getting laid”.   Do they still call it that?

We see a series of short scenes interspersed with some clever dance and multi-media images creating a collage of images and stories about sexuality.  The main story is about a sexually liberated young woman “Kate”, acted by Erica Hill, who enjoys “no strings attached” casual sex, and her latest partner Kyle (played by Tomi Simanie) who after a sexual encounter desires a long term relationship.

Much of the humour in this situation is that it is a reversal of what was expected.  Normally it is young men in university seeking quick and shallow, sexual encounters, and women seeking, what used to be called in my era, an “MRS” degree.

The two other women in the play are more representational of traditional values I think.  We follow Maddie Szlafarski as Brooke, who seeks to lose her virginity within the context of a committed relationship  and Jessica Grossi as Nicole who goes through a succession of boyfriends without finding “the one” that she can commit to.  These women represent a more traditional attitude to sex and this spectrum of response, (see the research of Kinsey for further info on the sexual spectrum), provide the necessary conflict that creates the drama in this show.

Much of the comedy comes from Danny Johnson, as Dylan, who uses apps on his phone like Tinder to find a number of sexual encounters, seeking something in numbers, that he has not been able to find in a single parter.

This is very much an ensemble show, with the entire cast pulling together to transform tiny scenes into a seamless whole;  as a result it is hard to pick out individual performances.  For me, Szlafarski’s vulnerable performance was the most compelling, as I sympathized most with her story, and thought her final decision to get intimate for the first time, without any earth shattering result, felt most authentic to me and true.  It takes practise before you get the hang of it.

Impressive too was the integration of multimedia and video images with the transitional dance sequences.  Of all the shows I have seen in the festival to date, thus production made the best use of the limited repertory lighting plot, in each of the venues.

This production attracted a different audience from any of the other shows I saw in the festival.  Younger, and more curious, perhaps.

Technology has clearly changed the whole seduction experience with apps like Tinder and social media fueling the same old game that is as old as history itself.   It has been said that our time is the most overtly sexual one since the time of Charles the Second of England and the restoration.  I think for young people, the pre-AIDS era of the late 1960s and early 1970s might also vie for the distinction.  The film and and theatre of then seem to reflect that anyway.

I appreciated the program notes for this show, they set the tone for what the show was trying to accomplish.  A very thoughtful show, nicely nuanced with the balance towards drama in the end.

And a few quick mini thoughts about two more…

LOVESPELL
Attic Window Productions
At the Player’s Guild.

This three hander, written and directed by Collin Glavac, turns the traditional “Rom-Com” on its head.

The kind of one liner, laugh out loud humour, was exactly what I was craving in the first show written about above, is to be found in this production in spades.  Not to put anyone down mind you!

This show deservedly was picked as “best in venue” by VIEW on Thursday.  The cast featuring Collin Glavac, Alexandra Li Tomulescu, James Daniel Keating is very strong, and the show strikes just the right balance between articulate thoughts on relationships, and laugh out loud funny business.

The story, ultimately, surprised me too, in where it ended up, a nice final image.

ANYBODY ELSE
written by Ryan M. Sero
directed by Tyler Brent
Make Art Productions
at Theatre Aquarius Studio

In a similar bent to LOVESPELL, in that it was also about relationships as well s populist theatre.

Playwright Ryan M. Sero is a Hamilton Fringe Veteran now, having produced a show in every Fringe since his first play MODICUM OF FREEDOM in 2009.  I look forward to his productions each year, as they are clever, funny and articulate reinterpretations of classical texts, or they are original plays that recall the writing of Woody Allen, in a self deprecating and neurotic, stand up style of narration.

Of all of the plays I saw in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, ANYBODY ELSE was certainly the best written script.  It was filled with thoughtful insight into relationships, allusions to classical theatre and enough wry humour and wit to fill three fringe venues.

Pamela Gardner, is a perfect foil to Sero, as the fellow artist, writer’s muse, and lover. Sean Emberley, does a lovely double turn as Sigmund Freud, and the ex-boyfriend of Gardiner that completes this love triangle.   And the staging, using a wonderfully selected psychiatrist’s couch to serve as multiple locations, was most inventive and clever.

This production is indeed one of the stand outs of the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, and its large audiences are well deserved.

NOTE:   Tyler Brent, the director of ANYBODY ELSE, is a friend and is cast in my own show in the festival.   I have no other relationships with anyone else involved in any of these four productions.

2016 Hamilton Fringe Reviews, part 4

A few more Hamilton Fringe Shows I caught in the past few days.  These are all thematically what might be called “Thrillers”, so they naturally fit together I think.

BATHTUB GIRLS
Kairos Collective
at Theatre Aquarius Studio
Devised and performed by Nataila Bushnik and Robin Luckwaldt Ross

Inspired by the true life Mississauga murder case of Linda Andersen that dominated the Toronto headlines in 2004, this self devised and yet very intense one act docudrama tells the story of two young teenage girls who are arrested for the homicide of their mother.   In real life the two sisters, due to their young age at the time of the case, remained anonymous.  Their status as Young Offenders, allowed them to fade back into obscurity.

Here the killers are played by two Windsor Performing Arts Alumni Nataila Bushnik and Robin Luckwaldt Ross.  These two women also wrote the thoughtful script which explores the truth of what possibly might have happened the evening of January 18, 2003, into the full light of public scrutiny.

Much of the play, I am sure, is speculation.   I myself have worked on two theatrical projects based upon real life murders, and I can confirm that it is often impossible to know the true circumstances of a homicide.  Evidence is often contradictory, the deceased can’t refute what the killers admit to in a court of law.

Just like the real life detectives on the case, we the audience, have to piece together a narrative of what “might have” happened based upon the story is told to us by those involved – what is true and what is a lie?  It is up to us while watching to decide.  This raises the stakes in performance though as it forces an audience to become actively involved in the play, just by watching it.

On a bare stage, with nothing but a white sheet as a prop, these two young woman draw us deep into a dark and chilling world of conspiracy and murder.   Very effective music was created specifically for this production by Jaroslaw Bester and the Bester Quartet, which added a great deal. Similar to an Edgar Allen Poe short story, this play relies very heavily upon creating a very specific atmosphere of horror, Poe’s TELL TALE HEART immediately came to mind while watching this play.

Their mother, who we only see through the eyes of her daughters, is a self absorbed and abusive recent immigrant to Canada.  The two sisters, 15 and 16 years old in 2003, find the contrast between their unhappy home life and the exciting outside suburban world of school and the mall, intolerable, and so they make their plans murder as if it were some macabre class project.

With a great deal of premeditation, they ply their drunken mother with painkillers, sedatives and alcohol and pour her into a bath tub full of water expecting that she will die on her own.   The horror of the killing though, comes upon discovering that she is still alive, and so one of the two sisters holds her head under water for five minutes until she expires.  It was planned that both of them would take part in the killing,  committing the act together, but in the end it is the younger sister that does the deed, and thus feels more responsible for it.

Flush with $280,000 in life insurance money, the two sisters are very indiscreet about the circumstances of their mother’s death – the younger sister, tormented by guilt, confides the secret at a drug-fueled party. The truth makes its way to the police, who begin an investigation and are able to get a recorded confession using wiretaps, and – no spoilers here as we know this fact walking into the show – the two women are charged and eventually convicted of the crime.

The play only focuses on the events around the killing itself, without getting into the media circus that was the trial and the incarceration and eventual rehabilitation of the two convicted killers.  If the piece is ever expanded to a full length play, hopefully those details will one day become part of the story.

This was a play that I thought about quite a bit in the days following the experience of watching it.  I like that about it a great deal – that it did not give up all of its answers easily.   I hope the audience at Aquarius took as much away from witnessing the production as I did.  Kudos to all involved.

THE FIVE LIVES OF COLBY CARTER
L.M. Magalas Productions
at Hamilton Theatre Inc.

A similar piece to BATHTUB GIRLS, although the case explored here is fictional, is first time playwright L.M. Magalas’ play THE FIVE LIVES OF COLBY CARTER.

This piece too, is an investigation that looks at the circumstances of a crime, in this case the poisoning of a young woman at a party. In this narrative however, the woman at the centre of the piece is Colby Carter, a music agent and promoter.  When the show begins she is in a coma and hovers close to death.

This play’s frame is her friends and family waiting for her to recover in the waiting room of a hospital.  The real meat of this play comes when a police officer named Tyler, wonderfully performed by long time Fringe and Community Theatre veteran Julian Nicholson, arrives on the scene and starts to investigate the circumstances of what happened.

Just like an Agatha Christie “whodunnit”, all of the potential suspects of the poisoning are present in that waiting room, former friends and lovers, and a jealous sister are implicated by each of the characters in turn.

The device that is at the centre of the play are several onstage reenactments of the same events over and over again – (think of the film GROUNDHOG DAY) – a replaying of events at a CD release party for wannabe Rock Star Keith Krocker, that all have been invited to.

Krocker, looking like a larger then life caricature of Irish Rock star Bono, steals the show.  Luis Arrajo plays this part with skill, gusto and sheer evil delight, and as a result gives the most engaging performance of the production.  He is caught out during the course of the party in sexual infidelity and plagiarism, but as he is also “the coolest dude on the planet”, he creates the much needed conflict that leads to a physical altercation.

Much of this play works extremely well, but as a whole, it does go on a bit too long, for my taste at least.  The early scenes in particular, seem like just set up for what follows.  Too much time is spent, I think, in getting us there before the crime scene reenactments start.  Perhaps a fast monologue by Detective Tyler, similar to the voice overs on the old TV show DRAGNET, setting up the circumstances would be a better way to start.

Playwright Magalas, has perhaps, also made the error of directing the show herself, which is not a good idea when producing your own play, unless one also has a great deal of experience as a director and dramaturge.

The late Canadian playwright David French, was great at this – his scripts were famously note perfect on the first day of rehearsal without any workshopping beforehand – but most of us who write for the theatre, don’t have that skill set.

Ironically, already involved in the production is Julian Nicholson, who has an extensive track record of directing new plays, so the outside eye/script editor the production desperately needed was already involved in the show.

As to the rest of the cast, Olivia Prunean as Sara, gives a fine performance, and Paddy Skinner as jilted country singer Adam keeps the action going in fine style as well,  Alex Whorms in a thankless “best buddy” role does nicely.

At the centre of the action, is Jenn Magalas as Colby, we only see her character in a series of flashbacks which are the reenactments at the heart of the play, she also has a lovely moment in an epilogue flashback at the very end, that ties together some of the threads quite satisfactorily.  I liked those final moments of the play, a great deal.

I apologize for perhaps being a tad critical about this production, at least about the script, which I think still needs revision.  I appreciate and acknowledge that this is a first time producer mounting their very first play in their very first Fringe Production, so perhaps this is unfair criticism.   Also, I hear through the grapevine that this production is playing to very good houses, so on one level at least, that of finding an audience, it is doing very well.

Artists getting the opportunity to “do their own thing” and learn along the way is core to the philosophy of the whole Fringe Festival movement.  I applaud L.M. Magalas for seizing the opportunity to get her script from the page to the stage, and for putting up the time, effort and money to do so.

Hopefully, the play will go on to have another production when the script can be developed and be taken to the next level.  I am reminded of the fact one of the hit productions in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, Michael Kras’ #DIRTY GIRL, is a rewritten and better constructed version of the play FOR KIERA, which told the same story but from an entirely different perspective, and was a gallery show last year.

Art in the end is never finished, merely abandoned, as the old saying goes.

And speaking about remounting older work, we come to John Bandler’s play…

CHRISTMAS EVE AT THE JULI-BEE MOTEL
Bandler Corp,
at Player’s Guild Studio

I saw the first production of this play back in 2010, when we both had original plays in the same Fringe venue, and when it was Playwright John Bandler’s very first production of one of his plays – the very same circumstances as is THE FIVE LIVES OF COLBY CARTER now.

Since then, McMaster Engineering professor John Bandler has produced a number of his original plays at the Hamilton Fringe over the years, including a whole trilogy of fascinating science fiction plays loosely tied together around the character of Naomi Verne.

Although his first play, CHRISTMAS EVE AT THE JULI-BEE MOTEL, is actually his most accessible one.  The script is a film-nourish thriller, heavily influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock, that takes place in an out of the way motel lobby in the middle of a blizzard on Christmas Eve.

I was rather fond of the that first production of this play back in 2010, for one thing, it starred a friend of mine Monica Cairney, and while it had a few rough spots, I felt it held up rather well in performance.

I was unsure how I would react to seeing it again in such different circumstances, but I am pleased to report that the show has exceeded my expectations.   This is a tighter and more polished version of the play and features some nicely nuanced work from actors Aimee Kessler Evans (in the role of Cassie) and James Thomas, as multi-millionaire businessman Mick, whose life has collapsed and who finds himself at the end of his tether and stuck in a dead end locale as the Juli-Bee Motel.

Much of the strength of this revival of the play comes from veteran local director Tom Mackan, (who was directing plays here in Hamilton before I was born).   He raises the stakes significantly in this production, and gets sterling technical support from Anne Hogan, Daniel Van Amelsvoort and sound designer Peter Jonasson.

The play at its core relates a number of stories, some of which are true and some of which are not.  It is a play that does not reveal all of its secrets, but leaves some details open ended.  Your guess is as good as mine, as to what happens afterwards to our two characters.

It is also a very sexual play, although it is not an explicit one.  I hope, in the end, that the relationship between the two characters gets, eventually, down and dirty.  Film Noir, which heavily influenced this show, comes from the period in Hollywood when the Hay’s Code of film censorship was fully in effect.  In the Noir thrillers of the 1940/1950s, men and women stare longingly at one another with bated breath, and even married couples slept in two single beds.  I myself, prefer late 1960s films, for their freedom of expression, but I digress…

NOTE:   I have past relationships with Julian Nicholson, and Luis Arrajo in COLBY CARTER, and almost everyone involved in John Bandler’s JULI-BEE MOTEL production, except his two actors.  This obviously colours anything I have written here, and I waffled over I writing anything at all about John’s play because of this.

The idea in writing these articles is to guide you, Gentle Reader, in deciding whether or not to see these productions. If you disagree with anything I have written, then please come up during the Fringe and disagree with me.  I love to hear your thoughts on these shows too.  It is not a one way conversation I trust.

Keep on Fringing Folks – only a few days left now to go, and still so many more productions to see…

2016 Hamilton Fringe Reviews, part 3

One person shows are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love them.

They are a staple of the Fringe Festival movement, as one person on tour is by far the most economical way to move a theatre production from venue to venue.

A tangent; there is a one-act Samuel Beckett play that has no actors onstage whatsoever, but as no one has yet figured out how to tour a play that can’t move and promote itself – I think it is unlikely we will ever see it at the Fringe.

A few of my all time favourite plays are one person shows.  BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR by John Gray and Eric Peterson, Tom Cone’s HERRINGBONE, (the early version from Canada, not the later multi-character version that went to Broadway), Joan MacLoed’s JEWEL, and Patrick Suskind’s THE DOUBLE BASS just to name a few that linger in my memory.

This piece will discuss three very different one person shows that are in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe.

SOAR (FREE)
Written and performed by Carlyn Rhamey
Directed by Mel White
Squirrel Suit Productions
at Mills Hardware.

One person plays are often confessional pieces.   A diary can make great raw material for a monologue, as there is a first person narrative voice.

Carlyn Rhamey is personable and affable in a very funny self depreciating way.  She performs a theatrical reinterpretation of her own life, and the stories she tells are often funny while simultaneously embarrassing and sad.   We find it very easy to like her, as Rhamey explains the reasons why she has never been able to find love.   She chats about dead end jobs, and several awful sad (but thankfully short) relationships with men who only saw her as easy pickings.

What is compelling about her story is just how vulnerable she allows herself to be onstage.  The piece is performed directly to the audience, and therefore depends upon some form of reaction from the folks watching her.

She tells us about meeting the love of her life, and a relationship that goes well until her beloved gets a job in Scotland, and she is forced to make the choice between her life in Toronto and joining her boyfriend in the UK.

No real surprise here, she sacrifices her own job, and decides to follow her heart and head off to Edinburgh. The complication of the relationship falling apart just prior to departure, makes things tricky.

Undaunted Carlyn heads off to the UK anyway but she finds herself in Dublin, Ireland instead.   Not being rich enough to be in proper digs, she soon finds herself exposed to authentic Celtic culture, which is open and sharing, for the first time in her life.   Crack (or Craic to spell it correctly in Gaelic) has two very different meanings in each culture.  She finds generous and kind people who welcome her as one of their own.  She finds community. She finds the possibility of happiness.

Eventually she ends up in Scotland, where she runs into a bunch of Canadian Theatre students on tour with a show. (Tangent – Edinburgh’s Fringe founded in 1947 is the largest arts festival in the world – I too can relate from personal experience that there are wild Colonials aplenty doing shows there).  These expatriate thespians, with director Martha Henry in tow, embrace her to their group and as a result Rhamey gets inspired to study theatre as well.  Here too she has found community, but this time with young people who have a passion for something that attracts her.

There is humour a plenty in the show, so much of the play makes you laugh a great deal. Bagpipes, underwear, uncooperative baggage carousels, Jane Austen heros, and youth hostels are just a few of the stops along the way.

Does the experience of her journey change her life?  Does she find love once again?  Does she learn to do some step dancing? Does a career choice as an actor mean that she will one day be touring the Fringe circuit?  Actually strike that last bit, as you know the answer to that one already.

It takes courage to tell so much of your own life story onstage.  I applaud Carlyn Rhamey for sharing her experiences with us.  I enjoyed watching it a great deal – you should see it as well, as I recommend it highly.

AWOKEN
Written and performed by Nicholas Dave Amott
Directed by Brennan Richardson
Fireflood Entertainment
at Mills Hardware.

Ottawa based actor Nick Amott presents a very different one person show.

Amott’s play presents a fractured narrative that seem the internal ramblings of a man in a deep coma.  I apologize that I missed the exact malady/disorder that his character is suffering from – but it is a sleep disorder that renders him unable to sleep until his brain is so exhausted that be becomes comatose. He performs several characters in different voices, and there are fragments of dialogue as his story jumps back and forward in time.

Some of these voices, (specifically those of his mother and of the medical team attempting to save his life are pre-recorded), while the other characters, (in his mind and externally in the real world as well), Amott performs himself.

The central conversation seems to be between a doctor, or therapist, with a thick English accent and Amott’s internal mind – a reference to Freud perhaps the internal and external in verbal combat with each other.   They banter, and the therapist questions the validity of the experience of a mind in a fever.  A great deal of the humour in the show comes from these exchanges back and forth.  There are a few clever one liners to be mined.

Unique to my own experience in watching one person shows, the actor here lights the production using several lamps, cell phones and even a BIC lighter – (some of these lighting instruments are on stands and others Amott manipulates with his hands).  This is a brilliant device, as we change focus instantly between these realities in the world Nick creates.   There is also an amazing rhythm to the show – the pace is very quick and it requires quite a bit of dexterity to keep turning on and off all of those lamps in time to the dialogue that is being performed.

One thing I liked very much about this show, was that the narrative it presents was not in linear order.  Like a detective, we the audience, are expected to do some work here piecing together tiny little bits of information to create our own theory of what is happening.

I won’t spoil the show by telling you how it turns out, but this production left quite an impression on me.  Even now, a few days after seeing it, I still have not figured it all out.  It has made me think – which is a good thing – something that the world needs more of these days.

TOLLER
Toller On The Run Productions
At Artword Artbar
Written and Directed by Sky Gilbert

David Benjamin Tomlinson, portrays the Canadian bisexual figure skater Toller Cranston in a stunning tour de force performance that reveals a great deal about the vanity and vulnerability of fame.

Cranston is an icon in Canadian sport, he tells us about the Olympics and world championships.  Figure skating is a performance art and there is a flamboyant theatricality about the character – he needs an audience to listen to him in order to be happy.  Indeed, Cranston as presented, seems to need to be worshipped by his adoring fans.

The play presents a series of stories of cruel figure skating judges, paparazzi stalking him and lovers (both male and female), of early childhood experiences that shaped him in “Swastika, Ontario”, where homophobia was rampant and beauty and sensitivity were ruthlessly stamped out.  Toller endures being different from those around him and vows to become better then the circumstances from which he has sprung forth.

There is a narrative twist to the play which I won’t fully reveal.  But the basic idea is that Cranston in telling this story to us is actually rehearsing the very play that we are watching to an audience of no one whatsoever.    Or perhaps not and our reality is that we are all sitting in the Artbar watching the show.  It is up to you to figure it out when you see it.

I found actor David Tomlinson – who bears no small resemblance to the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch – to be engaging and compelling in the role of Cranston.  He has a wide range of emotions and his need to be heard and understood is what raises the stakes and draws us in.

I am quite a fan of playwright Sky Gilbert’s writing – mostly as it forces me to think about experiences that, while not my own, show me the world around me in a entirely different and new way.  Over the years the body of work he has created is impressive and he has written more then a a few plays that I think are wonderful and have been seen only briefly. THE WHORE’S REVENGE is the one I have wanted to revive myself at some point as I recall the production of it in Toronto in 1989 with a great deal of fondness.   WHY WE TORTURED HIM is also – particularly for a local audience – one of the most important plays that ever came out of Hamilton.  These are plays that need to be revisited I think.   Perhaps if my luck at next year’s fringe lottery holds – I will get the opportunity.  Fingers crossed.

Sky Gibert created HammerTheatre as a local alternative theatre company back in 2007 to produce plays that were meant specifically for a Hamilton audience, and were thus unlikely to be performed anywhere else.  While this particular production is not by HammerTheatre, still the production team and venue recall those shows, in my mind at least.

Sadly, after a run at the Toronto Fringe, the brief run of this play at the Hamilton Fringe has come and gone.  I am grateful for the chance to have seen it, as I missed it in its first run last November.

NOTE  – I have no relationships with anyone involved in the first two productions.  But I have briefly served on a a non profit board with Sky Gilbert – I have also been fortunate enough though to have had a long time friendship with Theatre Aquarius co-founder Steve Newman who stage manages and has designed the set for TOLLER.  I know that anything I have written here about their show is filtered through those relationships – but as the production has now closed I think it more then fair to praise the work of these gentlemen, as it is so richly deserved.

Many of the productions in the Hamilton Fringe are created by young people getting the chance to create a body of work for the first time.  I am happy though that there is also room in the festival for older artists of long standing. The festival itself treats all participants in the festival equally, although as the capacity crowd at TOLLER proves audiences themselves treat senior artists perhaps a bit better.

Once again gentle reader, I find it a great privilege to have the chance to experience these productions and to have the opportunity afterwards to write about them.   More thoughts on the shows I have seen so far in the Hamilton Fringe will appear tomorrow after I have had the chance to have write them up.

Happy Fringing!

2016 Hamilton Fringe Reviews, Part 2

FAITH
Theatre by Committee
at Hamilton Theatre Inc.

Cast:      Lindsey Middleton, Ben Hayward
Director:  Brandon Gillespie

THE COMMANDMENT
Phil Rickaby Productions
at Mills Hardware

Cast Phil Rickaby
Director:  Richard Beaune

As both of these productions are thematically similar, I thought I would write about them together.

I have seen eleven productions now in the 2016 Hamilton Fringe.  But, as of this point, these are only the third and fourth productions that I have been able to write about while juggling my own production in the festival.  The whole point of this writing is to direct audiences towards good work that should not be missed, so I am feeling the time pressure intensely of getting these written and posted.  Apologies for that Gentle Reader – but I will try to get my notes into some sharable form as quickly as I can.

So here we go again…

FAITH is an original play by playwright Ben Hayward, about a remarkable young woman and her experiences with a United Church youth group – experiences which ultimately lead to her rejection of God, or at the very least rejection of organized religion.

Although a two hander, it felt very much like a one person show as Lindsey Middleton, in the role of Faith, delivers much of the play to us as a monologue, speaking directly as though the audience was another cast member. This young woman has a powerful story to tell us.

Faith is both a character in the play, as well as its major theme.  What EXACTLY do we believe in?  How does organized religion help us become closer to God?   Is love, even love for a married man with children, but still love nonetheless, essential to us as human beings.  Who are we to judge what is moral?  Can anyone choose who we fall in love with?

I love “long dark night of the soul” stories about redemption.  Rod Serling and the TWILIGHT ZONE were full of them.  The alcoholic nobody who becomes Santa Claus, the aged salesman who barters his own soul for the life of a child, to cite two excellent examples from the original sixties TV series.

But back to the play…

Faith is a very intense young person, desperately seeking connection.  She shares her family history telling us about a father who abandoned her at a very young age, and a mother who had no interest in having a daughter.   Despite this she tells us of her few happy memories of her childhood, and of her sad attempts to find and reconnect with her dad.

Like many vulnerable people, she finds a substitute for the family she never had by forming an attachment with an older and stable person, in this case, with the pastor at her church.   He is kind and funny, and listens attentively to her problems.  I myself was surprised by how this relationship was dramatized, and what followed in the narrative was unexpected.

Coming in to the theatre, I thought the story would be about sexual abuse, as the history of the some churches in Canada; as the examples of the pedophile Brothers of Mount Cassell in Newfoundland and the Residential school system perpetrated upon the indigenous population have amply demonstrated – this exploitation of the vulnerable is all too common.

So my preconception of this production, coming into it, was that it was about a predatory priest looking to exploit a vulnerable woman in his care, but that is not the direction that this production went in.  The story it tells is more complex.

The pastor is this production is David, played by Ben Hayward.  He spends much of the play as a kind of human prop for Faith to vent at.  He listens to her and attempts to understand her, without much success.  It is a hard role to handle, requiring stillness for much of the play and Hayward gives a balanced and nuanced performance in the role.

Using the biblical example of the story of King David (and that the pastor in this play shares the same name David is clearly no coincidence) and Beesheba, a young virginal woman in the bible that he falls for.  We explore the morality of teenage sexuality, through the viewpoint of a decent man desperately trying to do the right thing despite the temptations of the flesh on ample display before him.

Much of Faith’s value in herself comes from men who desire her sexually.  She is desperately seeking some connection that she can hold onto in her fractured life.

One of the most powerful moments in the play, was when Middleton delivered a sexually charged monologue directly to a member of the audience – (and in the particular performance I saw, the person she picked to perform that bit of the play to was me).  It was an intense experience I can tell you.

Middleton is attractive woman, and her energy onstage is palpable – you could power an entire city with the energy she uses.  She also spends much of the play in ripped jeans revealing more of her then is typical outside of a strip club, and her physicality is in-yer-face.   There is some disrobing in the play I should warn you.  But it is the “emotional nudity” – the bearing of one’s soul – which is what is so memorable about this production.

Indeed, I feel that this is what the theatre does best, showing us intimacy in a simple, immediate and direct manner.  What I took away from the experience of watching it, is that all of us are worthy of being loved and connected to someone.  At the end of the play, we sincerely hope that one day Faith finds love for real in her life.

In a similar vein, although with a bit more comedy in performance, was Phil Rickaby’s one man show THE COMMANDMENT.

God is, in this play, a self depreciating, yet all powerful deity who speaks to his chosen prophet.  Phil, however, is an atheist and spends the first half of the play desperately avoiding listening to the message that God wants him to share with humanity.

The frame for the play has Rickby’s character crashing on open mike night at a local pub.  Seizing the microphone, he shares an intense and personal story of redemption, feeling compelled to find an audience to tell his tale to.

The song sung by Joan Osbourne about God being a “slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus trying to finds his way home” was running through my head while watching this play.  In this case though, God is the one driving the bus.  He advises the his chosen prophet to get onto the empty bus, as “the next three buses are full already”.  How can one argue with that?

Much of the humour, comes from God’s attempt to tell his new 12th Commandment to a man that desperately does everything he can to avoid listening to it.  It is only tragedy that forces him to become humble enough to listen to the message.

I have spent some time of my life in 12 Step fellowships.  The people in these meetings “share” their experiences, often dark and disturbing memories about surviving unimaginable pain but also about ultimately healing and coming out the the other side.

At the end of ones endurance we hit a “bottom” – when the pain of staying the same, becomes less then the pain of changing – it is often only then that recovery is possible.  People find it in jails, rehab hospitals and in the basements of churches.

It is often said in those rooms, that we “carry the message”, and that is the feeling I got from watching this play.   That hope and redemption is possible was the message Phil is sharing with us.  That the stakes were very high in his need to tell us this particular story.

One person shows depend very heavily upon audience reaction.  Story tellers depend upon someone to tell their stories to.   I was very lucky therefore to have caught Phil Rickaby’s show on one of those magical nights when there was a tangible connection between audience and performer – for whatever reason we all felt a strong connection that has coloured my experience of seeing the play.

Some credit naturally goes to Director Richard Beaune, it is easy to forget that great productions depend on an outside eye to shape and edit the experience of a play.

The beats – changes in tone and mood – in this play were incredibly precise.  It felt to me that this was a play that Phil had been performing for a very, very long time, and I was astonished to learn that the show that I caught was only the third performance EVER of the play. It is having its debut at the Hamilton Fringe.

I do hope that THE COMMANDMENT goes on to have a long run, as there is a real and sincere message at the heart of this production.

A tangent here unrelated to these productions here being discussed – I often get frustrated at Fringe plays that often have no point at all, other then the performers desire to get an agent or future work.   Perhaps that is another post to come in the days to come after the festival  – shows that seem to belong only to the person onstage rather then being meant to share with an audience.  But I digress from the point of this particular bit of writing.

Again, I must assure you, neither of these plays are about religion, they preach no particular creed, but they are both dark and personal journeys.

We seek light out of the heart of darkness – spiritual journeys are sometimes described as journeys through the desert.   At the end of a long journey, a cold drink with friends is a great way to end my day of fringing, as well.

I have no affiliations with anyone involved in any of these productions outside of meeting  and drinking with them at the Fringe Club this past few days.  That is one of my favourite experiences of a fringe festival – the chance to meet and interact with other performers.

More thoughts to come tomorrow, including some very cool one person shows I caught this weekend.  11 shows seen so far – off to another one in 15 minutes.

Go see these shows!