Double Bill: Carrion Birds, Casualties at the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

This year’s winners of the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s playwriting competition in the Acting Out category are Greg Everett (Carrion Birds) and Alex Pannier (Casualties). Everett and Pannier’s one-act plays are running as a double bill at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial Hall until August 4th. Carrion Birds and Casualties are being presented as workshopped productions.

Directed by Robbie Lynn, Everett’s Carrion Birds is set along the Tobique River Valley where Rona (Kat Hall) and her uncle Corbin (Ryan Griffith) live and work in solitude. The relationship between Rona and Corbin is tense, to say the least. Rona resents living with Corbin who demands a lot of her. She would leave if it were not for her birthright — the land Rona’s grandfather poured (someone else’s) blood and sweat into hundred years ago. Birthright or not, Corbin needs to know Rona deserves to inherit the land, that she is willing to sacrifice just as he has.

When a shale gas surveyor (Kyle Bech) trespasses on their land, Rona and Corbin act quickly to make sure he doesn’t tell anyone about their whereabouts. The surveyor, blindfolded and tied up, soon finds himself involved in a dark and deadly ritual.

The play is set in rural New Brunswick, so what else could the personal conflict really be about than what it means to live a good life? Right, it’s not just that Rona hates taking orders from Corbin. Corbin despises his brother — Rona’s father — for abandoning their land for the suburbs and only returning whenever he thought he could make money off the property. And the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, because Rona perks up when the surveyor suggests he may have found something on their land. Of course, Corbin didn’t lose an arm — which has been replaced by a crow’s arm (credited to Kyle Brewer) — just so his niece could spit on the family legacy. For Corbin, he would rather lose his arm all over again than work under someone and live in a home he doesn’t truly own.

To spice up familiar territory, Everett has thrown in some supernatural elements, among which is a ghost story that’s closer to truth than fiction.

Still, Everett’s Carrion Birds feels better suited for a collection of short stories than the stage; It’s something you would read in the late hours of the night.

Lynn’s direction sees the play move at a brisk pace, evading much emotional complexity along the way. The performances are loud with meaningful or thoughtful pauses seldom appearing — too bad considering the themes of Everett’s drama. So, the ideas move, but they don’t necessarily connect.

Hall and Griffith do a fine job convincing us that neither Rona or Corbin would be a welcome sight out alone in the woods. Griffith delivers a fanatical, lyrical intensity while Hall’s Rona is dangerously mischievous and cunning. Kudos to Bech for the physicality of his role (at one point he’s thrown to the ground by Hall), he sells it well.

The set features big logs of wood downstage left and three screens upstage where video projection (crow painting by Darshini Moonesawmy; video editing by Gavin Alexander Reid) displays crows on branches. The video projection adds a nice touch of dramatic flair to the woodland scenery.

***

Directed by Jean-Michel Cliche, Alex Pannier’s Casualties sees siblings Andrew (Lucas Tapley) and Elaine (Sharisse LeBrun) thrown back and forth in time by memories of their painful childhood. Addicted to pills and alcohol, Elaine and Andrew’s parents are the absently present. Neither adult is capable of responsibility, nor are they able to see the consequences of their behaviour. Elaine and Andrew are left to fend for themselves, leading to a strained relationship between brother and sister.

Pannier’s play brings to mind the Philip Larkin poem “This Be The Verse” where Larkin tells us plainly in the first line “they fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Following Elaine and Andrew closely on their journey through memory is a Monster (Alex Fullerton, wearing a mask that could belong to a killer clown) who sometimes represents addiction and anger and other times the family relative who sexually abused both of them.

Casualties is a brutally honest exploration of abuse and emotional fallout. And it is wonderfully directed by Cliche who translates the vulnerability of Pannier’s writing to the stage with great care.

Part of what makes Casualties an exciting, yet purposeful production is the measured theatricality of Cliche’s direction. To portray the parents, LeBrun and Tapley wear masks that are stylistically similar to those found in commedia dell’arte. The actors, upon donning these masks, become almost manic with big, exaggerated movements and heightened voices; it’s a collision between tragedy and comedy, but no one’s laughing. So while mom gets tangled up in the phone cord, LeBrun’s Elaine is trying to find some way to release the pain she feels inside. Cliche gives these harsh character moments time to breathe before the clowning starts up again.

With the Monster, Cliche has him behave as a puppet master, pulling the family’s strings. Fullerton’s Monster moves in a taunting manner, as if taking pleasure in watching the family fall apart. He is an ominous presence on the stage.

The set is clean and accommodating of movement. In the center, there is a large bed, with a white and black wall behind it that looks like a QR code. Downstage on both sides are big wooden cubes with an E and A written on them, respectively. The sides of the cubes have key images from Elaine and Andrew’s childhood.

LeBrun and Tapley, who can really turn on a dime emotionally and physically, make a fantastic pairing. 

The final minutes of Casualties are chilling. While Elaine and Andrew wonder if they will turn out like their parents (“what will I be?”), the actors walk slowly to the bed, put on their masks, and sit up in bed looking out into the audience. It’s a frightening transition that says so much about how children can be affected by trauma.


Carrion Birds by Greg Everett and Alex Pannier’s Casualties run August 2 – 4 at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial, as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

For more information about the festival, visit: https://nbacts.com/

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Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating Kicks off the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Dylan Sealy's The Dangers of Geothermal Heating runs July 26 - 28 as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. Pictured, left to right: Anna Chatterton, Kira Chisholm, Len Falkenstein, and Jake Martin. Photo Credit: Mike Johnston.

Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating runs July 26 – 28 as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. Pictured, left to right: Anna Chatterton, Kira Chisholm, Len Falkenstein, and Jake Martin. Photo Credit: Mike Johnston.

It’s not easy going green. Just ask the Weatherbee-Savoie family — victims of a fourth-dimensional hellscape.

Running as the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s Mainstage production, Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating is a lot like morning breakfast. The comedic elements are crisp like bacon, and the references to classic horror movies run deep like a refreshing glass of orange juice. And the family drama? It’s running all over the place like the yolk from three soft eggs.

Directed by Lisa Anne Ross, The Dangers of Geothermal Heating finds parents Tim (Len Falkenstein) and Tara (Anna Chatterton) trying to casually pass the time in their newly haunted home. Their daughter Annabelle (Kira Chisholm) has had enough of the twisting labyrinth outside of their living room. Not only is there a minotaur roaming the hallways, but the bathroom is constantly moving around. Oh — there’s also hands trying to drag Annabelle into hell.

Who knew trying to install geothermal heating could have such horrific consequences?

Well, if you ask Tim, the geothermal heating isn’t necessarily to blame. The family must have disturbed an ancient Indian burial ground. That’s if Tim remembers Poltergeist correctly. It’s been awhile.

Whatever the reason, Tara just wants her house back. That’s why the family has hired Doctor Richard Dee (Jake Martin) to help them return the house back to normal.

Let’s talk about Ross’ absolutely marvelous direction.

Ross plunges the Fredericton Playhouse’s backstage studio space into total metaphysical weirdness. As established, everything outside of the living room is chaos. To show this, Ross has devised simple, yet effective choreography for the actors whenever they walk outside of the living room and into the infinite abyss. The actors walk in a very slow and deliberate manner that demonstrates a kind of space-time distortion in the labyrinth. As well, there are two doors that neatly slide around in the void, showing us how the house continues to twist and shift around — no wonder Annabelle can’t find the bathroom!

The physicality of Ross’ direction, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given her background in physical theatre, also brings out wonderful comedic moments, some of which are staged behind the scrim. The director delightfully expands on the already campy tones of Sealy’s script.

Speaking of which, The Dangers of Geothermal Heating is very funny. Fans of horror movies will appreciate the way Sealy plays with tropes of the genre. But of course, what’s the paranormal without the human element? The Weatherbee-Savoie family could seriously benefit from family counseling. Not because dad poisons their food sometimes, but because the family struggles to talk about their feelings honestly. And that’s what makes Sealy’s play a lot of fun, because you can almost imagine a ghost turning and saying to his partner “uh, let’s not get involved right now.”

Chisholm brings great comedic timing and a lot of attitude to the character of Annabelle, an eye-rolling teenager who just wants her mom to open up. Chisholm’s eyes are like daggers whenever Falkenstein’s Tim starts to say something super problematic. Chatterton is a force to be reckoned with as Tara, the family’s breadwinner. Falkenstein plays Tim with bumbling TV dad confidence, and it’s hilarious. It is a joy to watch Falkenstein and Chatterton’s characters argue in the midst of everything going to hell.

Martin’s Doctor Richard Dee, a paranormal expert with multiple PhDs, is wildly amusing to watch as his eccentric energy frustrates everyone and deflates all hope for normalcy.

Set designer Mike Johnston drops us into a nice and orderly living room that has an almost vintage feel to it — for one, there’s vinyl record coasters. It’s as if Tara beat everyone to the best deals at Value Village. The living room is situated on a raised platform, directly above and stage left are windows suspended in the air. The living room is warmly lit by Chris Saad who also hits us with all sorts of red for the play’s freakier moments. Johnston also provides the sound design, delivering loud demonic voices that are often a little hard to make out clearly. Costume Designer Laura-Beth Bird dresses Chatterton in ‘good work ethic’ plaid, with Falkenstein in more relaxed, goofy dad — e.g. short-sleeved dress shirt — clothing. Martin could not be better dressed as a mix between the Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor and the 11th Doctor.

Sure, the playwright drags out his defiance of audience expectations, but The Dangers of Geothermal Heating should not be missed. It’s hilariously ghoulish.


Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating runs July 26 – 28 at the Fredericton Playhouse (Backstage studio space), as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival runs July 26 – August 4.

For more information about the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, visit: https://nbacts.com/

Interview with Rakhee Morzaria, Creator of Web Series Note to Self

Last July, Rakhee Morzaria’s debut web series Note to Self premiered on CBC Comedy. Note to Self sees Morzaria — playing a heightened version of herself — living and learning in Toronto. Learning what? How trying to tweet while walking down the sidewalk is a bad idea, sending positive vibes into the world isn’t always enough, and the importance of bike safety. Eight episodes were released on a biweekly schedule, with the last episode airing in October.

In January, Morzaria’s Note to Self received a Canadian Screen Award nomination (“Best Web Program or Series, Fiction”).

From the writing to the diversity of its cast, there’s a lot to like in Note to Self. Morzaria is hilarious as she runs into situations with full confidence, only for it to backfire on her. 

What stands out most for me about Morzaria’s web series is its fresh perspective. How often do I get to watch comedy that really gets me? Not often enough. In fact, rarely. In under three minutes, episode four of Note to Self captures one of my biggest insecurities as someone born to immigrants. That is, I’m not really Latino. Sure, I’m brown, speak the language (mostly), and like eating spicy foods, but I am and will always be seen as the Canadian boy. This line of dialogue from Morzaria, who’s upset with an Indian employee of a pizza shop for misspelling her name, made me both laugh and reflect on my own life experiences.

RAKHEE — Is it me? Is it, you saw me and you thought, oh this is just some white-washed millennial who grew up in Canada not India. She’s not really Indian. I bet she can’t even speak the language! Because I can. I know words. I know plenty of words.


Note to Self
returns with five new episodes starting Monday, June 11th. Episodes will be released every other week on CBC Comedy and Morzaria’s Facebook page.

Here, Morzaria talks about starring in her debut web series, writing inspiration, and being nominated for a CSA.

Did you know from the start you wanted to play a version of yourself? Why was it important for you to approach the project this way?

Rakhee Morzaria: I knew I would be playing a heightened version of myself because it’s written through my perspective and because so many of the episodes are based on my real-life experiences. As a comedienne, my name is my brand so it made sense to keep the character’s name as my own.

Tell me about the inspiration behind episode four.

Morzaria: This episode is based on an experience I had at a chain pizza joint. Everyone working was East Indian and they were having so much fun, speaking Gujarati, making pizzas and hanging out. Part of me thought, maybe I should apply to work here? It looked so fun! When I saw my name come up on that screen – completely misspelled – I realized that, though I felt a strong connection to them, they felt and/or saw no connection to me.  Ha – that sounds quite sad! Though I didn’t actually confront anyone (like I do in the episode), I tried to capture that feeling as best as possible while adding some comic relief.

What has the response been like to that episode? I know one of the reasons I enjoyed it was how much I could relate to the insecurity over identity and belonging. I imagine others, who are the children of immigrants, saw themselves in it, too. Have people told you that?

Morzaria: I’m sure this is true. Many people have told me they like that episode the best because they relate to it. As a first-generation Canadian I spent so much of my early life trying to fit in. Only when I got older did I feel comfortable truly embracing my culture and exploring it. I believe everyone’s experiences are different but I’ve noticed a unique commonality of “where do I fit” felt among other first-generation Canadians that I know.

Note to Self was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award earlier this year. What did that recognition mean for you?

Morzaria: I was humbled to be nominated.  I still am. When we began filming the videos I had planned on releasing them myself! I was thrilled when CBC Comedy came on board to help produce them and being recognized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television was like a cherry on top.

Lastly, anything you would like to share about Note to Self returning on June 11th?

Morzaria: Creating the series has been such an incredible experience. I’m very pleased with the new episodes… there’s one in particular that’s a snapshot into my family life and culture and I’m excited to share it.  I’m so grateful to our director, cast, crew and CBC for helping bring this project into fruition. I truly hope people like the new episodes, and [if] they don’t…I truly hope they share them anyways.


Rakhee Morzaria’s Note to Self
Created / Produced / Starring: Rakhee Morzaria

To learn more about Rakhee, visit: http://www.rakheemorzaria.com/

A Record of Us Drives Through the Heart of New Brunswick

Two years after premiering at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, A Record of Us is back for a New Brunswick tour, beginning here in Fredericton at Saint Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre. A Record of Us is the inaugural work created and performed by Solo Chicken Productions’ the coop. The touring production features the original cast — Jean-Michel Cliche, Kira Chisholm, Alex Donovan, Ian Goff, Alexa Higgins, and Lexi McCrae.

Directed by Lesandra Dodson and Lisa Anne Ross, who created the work in collaboration with the coop company members, A Record of Us blends physical theatre with the texts of author David Adams Richards. So, yes, bleak is one way A Record of Us could be described for its reflections on loss, isolation, and family violence.

In one episode, the question on everyone’s mind is — what did you do, Ben? A cacophony of public suspicion overwhelms Ben (Cliche), a young man dealing with alcoholism. His father (Goff) meets him in a physical confrontation where dinner plates slide into the scene behind them. Later, Ben’s sisters (Higgins and McCrae) attempt at ignoring the damage in their family — while cleaning the mess left behind —  fails when their conversation breaks down.

Elsewhere, a young woman (Higgins) falls apart while no one seems to care or notice. Her worries are drowned out by the noise of men playing pool, aggressively, in the background. Another round of beer. Another night of pool. Another face in the bar.

In another part, two men (Donovan and Goff) slinging coffees try breaking away from their scripted customer interactions to have a meaningful conversation between themselves. Earnest human emotion in the wake of tragedy surfaces after much difficulty, leaving the men vulnerable to each other under the store’s harsh fluorescent lighting.

A Record of Us suggests the New Brunswick experience is rooted in a spirit of perseverance that, despite all odds, endures across the province — demonstrated most recently in last month’s record-breaking flood. Yet, failure has managed to find its way into New Brunswick’s fabric: high unemployment, low literacy, and continued youth out-migration. And so, in these reflections, A Record of Us depicts the fallout of continued personal hardships.

Unfortunately, the show suffers from a narrow perspective of living in New Brunswick. What about bilingualism? And the aging population? The indigenous population? The steadily increasing number of visible minorities? Sure, the social issues mentioned earlier can affect everyone, but not in the same ways; it’s called intersectionality. Since Richards’ works were only used for inspiration, there was room for the creators to develop their own contributions for the project. So, it’s not as if A Record of Us is a firm adaptation of anything that could explain the gaps. 

Under the direction of Dodson and Ross, the production stages stunning images that effectively expand the work’s themes. The movement language, elevated by impressive lighting work, is almost cinematic. In one such moment, Higgins performs in front of strobe lights (lighting design & technical direction by Trent Logan), producing a motion blur effect that looks as if a film reel is spinning out of control. That film reel consists of nothing but different versions of her character, different outcomes based on other people’s expectations. There’s also this intensity that continues from segment to segment, an intensity mixed with an unexpected, kind of morbid sense of humour. Dodson and Ross explore this intensity through brute, yet calculated movement that is performed with great vitality by the cast.

A talented ensemble and articulate direction help distract from the limited narrative presented in A Record of Us.


The New Brunswick tour of Solo Chicken Productions’ the coop’s A Record of Us runs June 1 – 8 in Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, and Sackville.

For more information about the show, including performance dates and ticket information, visit: http://www.solochickenproductions.com/a-record-of-us-june-2018-tour/

Interview with Sharon Belle and Maddy Foley, Creators of Web Series Step Sisters

Created by Sharon Belle and Maddy Foley, Step Sisters is a non-autobiographical web series about two women who sit and talk on the front steps of their house. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, in the world of Step Sisters nothing is ever simple. Conversations spiral out of control as Belle and Foley — who play roommates — deal with getting fired, escalating lies, and dating in Toronto.

What makes Step Sisters stand out is the way Belle and Foley manage to surprise their audience with every new episode — 16 episodes to date on YouTube. It’s hilarious to see how far Belle and Foley push their characters to get out of awkward situations and misunderstandings. And everything plays out in this often frenetic, yet well-timed, unfiltered dialogue that makes the friendship feel so much more genuine.

I had the chance to chat with Belle and Foley ahead of the season finale — airing Tuesday, May 29th. Here, Belle and Foley talk about filming during winter, the inspiration behind Step Sisters, and the future of the web series.

The chemistry between you two in this series is excellent. Your dialogue is just so funny. How long had you known each other before working on Step Sisters?

Maddy: We met about a year ago on the set of Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie and became fast friends. We had a comedic chemistry immediately and just kept making off-handed jokes and one-liners that didn’t quite make sense… sometimes even to each other.  But we would still laugh.  Basically, what you see in Step Sisters is an exaggeration of our rapport.

Sharon: The funny thing is we didn’t even see it at first. I wish teaming up was our idea, but it was other people telling us that we’re funny, or that we should write a show together that really got me thinking about it seriously.

When did filming for Step Sisters take place, and how long did you shoot? I dig the winter setting, especially those shots where we can see some snow falling (hopefully the weather cooperated!)

Maddy: Yeah! We got really lucky with the snow staying fairly consistent.  We also did everything in one take (as you see in the style of our show) which helped a lot with the continuity! We took 4 full days to shoot the entire series – it was a pretty quick turnover.  We aimed for 5 episodes a day and ended up cutting 3 for various reasons.  We had a pretty tight schedule but it was definitely manageable and still was a lot of fun and gave us the opportunity to try different bits out.

Sharon:  The winter setting was tricky at first. After writing episodes we would revisit them and constantly be asking ourselves “But WHY are they sitting outside!” Just like working with such a small budget ($500) I think the challenge definitely made the show better. It forced us to be more creative and weird. It got really unbearably cold at times, but yeah that snow was a literal gift from the heavens.

The audience doesn’t really know what to expect from episode to episode. We go from pink eye in the first episode to 2-for-1 cavity deals, pigeon murder, and a very drunk Groundhog Day. Did you know from the beginning that Step Sisters was going to be so wacky or was it something you came upon as you got further into developing the project?

Maddy: Our writing style sort of lends itself to some wacky outcomes.  We start with little bits or jokes and start bouncing stuff off each other and then try to expand it into something remotely narrative.  So the story arcs come from us extrapolating from these weird little jokes and finding ways to sew them together.  With that, things get real weird real quick because you’re trying to connect things that aren’t naturally connected.  But we found it hilarious and just hoped other people might too.

Sharon:  Yeah we honestly just kept discovering the project as it moved along. It wasn’t even until people started watching it and saying things like “It’s so weird” or “It’s completely insane” that we began to realize the monster we had created. We actually didn’t think we were making something that crazy. On paper, I promise you, the show actually looks pretty tame. All that being said, we’re really happy with how it turned out and how it’s being received.

Tell me about the inspiration behind some of the episodes. I’m eager to know what inspired the pigeon episode and the episode where your characters do extra work. Is the latter based on personal experience?

Maddy: The inspirations varied so much, again, from little off handed jokes to full scenarios or exaggerations of things that have happened to us or sometimes weird thoughts we would have or just happy accidents from our meetings.  It’s really just a jumble of things. The extra work is definitely based on real life experiences.  I think that was more of a quick joke we made that led itself to a full episode because there’s lots of material there.

Sharon: We went through the writing process together, but we did attempt to split up the work as far as episodes go. So I would say that approximately 50% are from my brain and 50% from Maddy’s. So yeah the pigeon thing, that was my brain fart. I actually did run over a pigeon one day on my bike and it was horrifying. But like…what if it wasn’t? Recently we described our characters as the Id’s to our Ego and I think that fits really well with how we spun our stories.

Are there any future plans for Step Sisters? Can we expect to see your characters sitting on steps elsewhere in Toronto?

Maddy:  We hope so! We’re going to keep working on some other projects we’ve been writing but we definitely love Step Sisters and want to keep it going. 

Sharon: If I could sit on those steps forever and make fart jokes with Maddy I would be a happy lady.

Laugh and Cry with Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out, Semi-Sweetheart

Presented at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out and Semi-Sweetheart pair splendidly for an evening of local theatre. The one-act comedies, written and directed by Artistic Director Samuel Crowell, will warm anyone in need of a good thaw after such a long winter.

And the Lights Go Out finds four high school students locked in after a disastrous dress rehearsal of Bye, Bye Birdie. Being locked in wouldn’t be so bad if theatre rivals Bess (Mallory Kelly) and Pepper (Naomi McGowan) weren’t trapped in the same room together. Pepper’s boyfriend Daveth (Peter Boyce) is caught between the two leads while Hannah (Sydney Hallett) grows frustrated with everyone calling her Anna. Moments later, the lights turn off and come back to reveal the students standing in four spotlights (lighting design by Christ Saad), with an ominous countdown appearing on their phones – and Hannah’s watch.

What’s fun about And the Lights Go Out is that the play feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone, only instead of a creature on the airplane’s wing there’s a shadowy figure in the booth. So, imagine the episode Five Characters In Search of An Exit but with the outrageous drama of high school drama. (Oh, the memories.) One by one, the students begin disappearing, time starts to run backwards, and memories begin to fade. And like an episode of The Twilight Zone, there’s a twist at the end: no one was ever trapped, the whole play is Daveth (actually Benji, from the booth) revisiting what was a very special time in his life.

Sure, Crowell’s ending doesn’t quite land, both in the writing and direction, but the main idea still manages to come through. That is, we can’t really appreciate something until it’s gone and then it’s too late.

McGowan has a blast playing Pepper, with all the shouting and big physicality of a character who needs to be the best. Kelly is right there with McGowan, throwing back everything she lobs at her. Hallett quietly steals scenes with her meek, offbeat performance as Hannah. And Boyce brings a lively nervous energy that is fun to watch as his character tries to keep it together.

Crowell manages to keep the play from feeling stale with a sense of anticipation in the movement, which gradually goes from rambunctious to slow and heavy. Same with the writing where the unexplained ramps up to a boil.

In Semi-Sweetheart, Charlotte (Sydney Hallett) visits her dying friend Joan McCloud (Naomi McGowan) in the hospital. The childhood friends look back on their friendship and the significance of Joan’s obsession with chocolate. Joan doesn’t only love chocolate, she lives for it. And sometimes, chocolate gets Joan in trouble. Although Charlotte knows the story differently, Joan’s high school sweetheart Henry (Miguel Roy) cemented the couple’s relationship with a plate of chocolate chip cookies – a gift stolen from Charlotte – for Joan’s birthday. Of course, none of this comes out until all three are adults and in the same room for the first time in many years.

Crowell doesn’t hide the fact that Joan is dying, it’s mentioned right away. So, this isn’t one of those plays that’s out to trick its audience. Everyone is on the same page about Joan. Which is what makes it hard for Charlotte to say what she needs to say. Here’s Joan dying, and then Charlotte wants to set the record straight about something that happened twenty years ago.

Despite its grim premise, Semi-Sweetheart is actually very funny. The friendship between Joan and Charlotte is presented in scenes that depict the two women at different ages. Joan meets Charlotte at the age of seven, then the audience watches Joan’s first communion where Charlotte ruins her white dress with dark chocolate (it’s an acquired taste). As if things couldn’t get worse, the altar crucifix almost falls on top of Joan. Hallett and McGowan are a joy to watch in the scene as their characters (Charlotte shuffles close behind Joan to keep anyone from seeing the chocolate stain) try surviving what ends up being a disaster anyway.

Hallett and McGowan deliver high-energy performances that manage to remain grounded in sincerity. The actors do a great job of portraying the characters at different ages, from carefree children to ‘whatever’ teenagers. Roy brings a tough guy attitude to Henry, a former football player with the game still in his blood. He also plays the Priest and Joan’s father.

Crowell’s minimalist set design has different items from Joan and Charlotte’s friendship placed around the stage. It’s all chocolate-related, of course. Saad’s lighting gives focus to the flashback scenes, taking us in and out of the present with clarity.

One major issue with the production is Crowell’s puzzling choice to include voice-over. Near the end, the voices of two older women play right over Hallett and McGowan’s dialogue. It’s hard to hear clearly, but it’s the same dialogue being spoken. The intended effect is to convince/remind the audience, at the last minute, that these characters are not being played by early 20-something actors. The voices have no presence anywhere else, so they don’t even work as, say, a framing device. Again, whatever dialogue being spoken is hard to hear, so the established mood and pace are really zapped by the voice-over.

Elevated by strong performances, Semi-Sweetheart is a heartfelt comedy that sure knows how to pluck the heartstrings.


Buttercup Productions’ And the Lights Go Out, Semi-Sweetheart ran as a double bill from April 19 – 21 at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre.

Next Folding Theatre Company Says Goodbye with Songs of the Seer

From science fiction to steampunk, Songs of the Seer is the latest (and final) Creative Collaboration from Next Folding Theatre Company. The main company consists of 10 theatre artists who, in addition to performing, are credited with writing and directing Songs of the Seer. The production features a supporting cast of five actors, and cameos by NFTC alumni.

The Provincial Union of Jorn has occupied the Territory of Huff. The territory sits on a rich deposit of Aether, an energy source highly sought after by the Icarians. The occupation is depicted through scenes that explore different sides of the war, from Huffian revolutionaries to the Icarian inner circle plotting a final solution to ordinary people trying to survive another day.

Don’t expect a lot to be explained in this collection of steampunk short stories. The basic premise is fairly straightforward, but the mythology is dense to the point of being an obstacle. Which is too bad since the play seemingly wants to discuss colonization, marginalization, and the nature of conflict. Instead, Songs of the Seer unloads a lot of information and hopes its audience can keep track of character names, their affiliations, and how they play into the larger scheme.

There are bright moments in the show. In Act One, a Huffian father (Miguel Roy) is visited by a friend (Alex Rioux) who has come to recruit the man’s only child (Esther Soucoup) for the war effort. It’s an emotional scene that presents a character who, despite their best efforts to hide, finds themselves personally affected again by the conflict. The opening scene of Act Two focuses on two Icarian guards (Brianna Parker-Tarasco & Scott Shannon) who go back-and-forth about morality. The scene does a good job of mixing humour with the play’s major themes. Later, an Icarian maid (Melissa McMichael) tells her co-worker (Shannon) about the sinister plans she overheard late one night and how she plans to run away. The maid is caught speaking against the Provincial Union and sentenced to death, sacrificed in a ceremony that the staff had been preparing only moments earlier. It’s a chilling scene.

Still, the production has difficulty justifying its approximate runtime of two hours and 30 minutes. And then, it abruptly ends with characters from NFTC’s Fred Nebula crashing the play. That’s right, NFTC has established their own ‘cinematic universe’. It’s totally absurd and hilarious, well if you saw the show last year and aren’t wondering who these characters are (played by Elizabeth Goodyear, Robbie Lynn, Michael Holmes-Lauder).

Costume Designer Kat Hall integrates masks and capes into the production with good results. Samuel Crowell’s set and prop design is simple but strikes the right tone for this steampunk fantasy.

Presented at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Songs of the Seer is the Next Folding Theatre Company’s final production.


Next Folding Theatre Company’s Songs of the Seer ran March 14 – 16 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 

Main Company (Writing/Directing/Acting:

Brennan Garnett
Kat Hall
Alex Rioux
Miguel Roy
Esther Soucoup
Hannah Blizzard
Melissa McMichael
Corenski Nowlan
Briana Parker-Tarasco
Scott Shannon

Supporting Cast (Acting):

Gregg Everett
Jenn Flewelling
Neomi Iancu Haliva
Greg Shanks
Julianne Richard

Featuring:
Elizabeth Goodyear
Robbie Lynn
Ian Murphy