Any Given Moment is Marvelously Reassuring

Ever feel the totality of existence weighing down on you? Emma (Claudia Gutierrez-Perez) feels that way. The 21-year-old barista has big questions but no answers. And lately, it’s become too much for her.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick (a co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre), Kim Parkhill’s Any Given Moment is marvelously reassuring — like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.

No, Parkhill doesn’t solve life’s greatest mysteries nor does she pretend to be ahead of everyone else. Any Given Moment is about finding clarity through the support of other people.

Directed by Natasha MacLellan, Any Given Moment stages three strangers trapped inside a church after police initiate a lockdown. The lockdown is put in place after Emma, armed with a plastic gun, calls 911 on herself. To escape the rain, Emma runs inside the church where she finds Lisa (Alexis Milligan), busy preparing a benefit concert, and Bill (Wally MacKinnon), an older man experiencing homelessness.

Despite being strangers, Emma and Lisa think they have each other all figured out. How? Well, Lisa’s affluent lifestyle is all the proof Emma needs to know that she has the perfect life. Kids, husband, and a “McMansion” — what does Lisa have to worry about? And Emma’s diary is all Lisa needs to know that she is a troubled left-wing teenager ready to commit a mass shooting. If Lisa actually listened to Emma, instead of relying on what the news tells her, then maybe she would see things differently. 

It’s easy to think the world and other people are shit when the news (credible or not) is everywhere, all time. It’s hardly surprising that Lisa discovers all sorts of rumours about the lockdown when she logs onto the internet. Any Given Moment reminds us that we live in a time where people can know everything and nothing —  the double-edged sword of Web 2.0.

No matter how much the world changes, however, people can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters. And it starts with listening — a simple, yet powerful act of kindness. It’s only when Lisa learns to truly listen, with help from Bill, that she can not only see the hurt and confusion in front of her, but also make a real impact on someone’s life.

Keeping true to the play’s lesson of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, costume designer Cathleen McCormack has the actors dressed in extremes. Gutierrez-Perez is dressed kind of like Wednesday Addams if she were the lead singer of a 2000s Emo band — torn denim skirt, black leggings, and black boots with black and white socks. Milligan has a neater, more approachable look — a white t-shirt with brightly coloured yoga pants. And MacKinnon is dressed with a dirty face, plaid jacket, and old jeans and sneakers. McCormack leaves no room for ambiguity, these costumes invite preconceived notions. 

Inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre, Katharine Jenkins-Ryan’s set features what look like stained glass windows, an elevated staging area and two benches downstage (one on each side). The way Ingrid Risk lights the back of those windows is beautiful, especially when MacKinnon sits alone with the Virgin Mary.

And those delicate piano notes from sound designer Aaron Collier…!

Gutierrez-Perez brings an energy that feels like a mix between Daria and the Warped Tour. She is fiercely compelling as Emma, an angry young woman who feels powerless against, well, everything. Milligan channels every awful Minions meme that has ever been posted unironically on Facebook. She is brilliantly infuriating as Lisa. Versatile, too. Milligan manages to take us from rooting against Lisa all the way to making us feel bad for her. It’s a solid performance.

MacKinnon is hilarious as Bill. He has a warm presence that makes us wish others could see Bill’s golden heart.

Any Given Moment reassures us that we do matter, no matter how big the world might feel at times. A must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s production of Any Given Moment by Kim Parkhill ran September 12 – 16 at TNB’s Open Space Theatre. A co-production with Ship’s Company Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/any-given-moment/

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Opi-Void at the Black Box Theatre

Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void is part of an anthology project called Sunny Corner Stories, which consists of stories about the playwright’s hometown on the Miramichi River. Robbie Lynn, playing The Narrator, performs the opening monologue from Sunny Corner Stories as an introduction to Opi-Void — presented by Herbert The Cow Productions at the Black Box Theatre.

With a beer in hand, the Narrator tells the audience all they need to know about Sunny Corner. The area has seen better days. There are potholes everywhere and hardly any plows to be seen in the winter. Of course, a lot of that changes once election season comes around. Then, rural communities all of a sudden matter.

And the young people are moving out west, leaving home far behind. So as graduating classes shrink, the older generations are left to wonder what will become of them.

About the young people who do stay, The Narrator tells us that many of them are drug users.

The character’s monologue comes not only from a place of concern, but also of feeling hopeless, if not totally defeated. It’s hardly an attempt to garner pity from the audience. The Narrator, standing in for the community at large, only wants to be acknowledged and understood. He isn’t looking for the “luxuries of the bigger cities,” only what’s necessary for the local people to live. It seems, unfortunately, that to be acknowledged, let alone understood, is a luxury.

Directed collaboratively between Nowlan and the actors, Opi-Void is about three friends trying to determine a solution after their friend Chris overdoses in their home. With Chris’ body in the other room, the friends go over all their options. Scout (Brianna Parker) insists on getting a truck and taking Chris’ body to the dump. Coley (Kat Hall) strongly opposes the idea, arguing that clearing a path in the snow would draw suspicion. At the same time, Scout and Coley are trying to help Johnny (Nowlan) come down from a bad trip.

Scout tries placing the blame entirely on Coley, since she was the one who poured the drinks. When Johnny runs outside in the cold, Scout wonders what would happen if he died out there and they later blamed him for everything.

The way Scout sees it, “addicts” disappear all the time. So, who would care if Chris went missing from their community? Disgusted, Coley reminds Scout that Chris has a family. Chris being a drug user doesn’t erase the fact he had people who cared for him and that he cared for in return. Coley wonders if Scout could seriously face Chris’ sister everyday, knowing she dumped her brother’s body somewhere.

Opi-Void asks its audience to think about the ways society marginalizes people who use drugs and to question our own biases. 

Nowlan’s commentary on the opioid crisis in Canada is delivered with fervor, although sometimes to its detriment. Watching the gears turn in Parker’s head as she takes Scout from ‘solution’ to ‘solution’ is fun. Hall’s Coley is unwavering in her defense of Chris’ humanity. Hall is dynamite as the friend who calls people out on their bullshit.

Nowlan’s high-energy performance overpowers and takes attention away from the dynamic that develops between Hall and Parker’s characters. Which raises the question, why include Johnny at all? Opi-Void feels like it could easily be a two-hander. Or at least, find something better for Johnny to do early on. Johnny’s interruptions are really distracting.

Opi-Void offers insightful commentary about the opioid crisis and its impact on small communities.


Corenski Nowlan’s Opi-Void, presented by Herbert The Cow Productions, ran September 13th at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre.

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/

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/

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/

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