The Real Inspector Hound and No Exit Launch Theatre UNB’s 2018/19 Season

Theatre UNB opens its 2018/19 season with an evening of one-act plays — The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

The double-bill, running at UNB’s Memorial Hall, features performances from the students of Drama 2173. Len Falkenstein directs.

First up: Stoppard’s 1968 parody of The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. The Mousetrap is famously known for its decades-spanning run and twist ending that audiences are supposed to keep a secret.

Theatre critics Moon (Julianne Richard) and Birdboot (Rory Jurmain) are reviewing a whodunit. The critics start to chat before the play within a play begins. Moon is a second-string critic filling in for Higgs. Moon dreams of revolution, an era where the “stand-ins of the world stand up.” Meanwhile, Birdboot sings the praises of a young actress whose career he is ready to launch with a glowing review of tonight’s performance. Birdboot assures Moon that anything scandalous that has been said about him is untrue. He is devoted to his “homely but good-natured” wife Myrtle.

The whodunit is set in Lady Muldoon’s country residence, in early spring. Mrs. Drudge (Swarna Naojee) dumps this information while speaking on the phone with an unknown caller. Radio broadcasts alert local residents of a madman on the loose.

Simon Gascoyne (Chris Rogers) enters the manor unannounced. He only wants to speak with Felicity Cunningham (Brooke Benton), but Cynthia Muldoon (Jane Marney) invites him to stay. Simon’s presence greatly upsets Magnus (Alex Pannier), the half-brother of Cynthia’s late husband Lord Albert Muldoon.

The murder mystery unfolds clumsily, not that Moon and Birdboot really care. Moon fantasizes about killing Higgs, and Birdboot is spellbound by Cynthia.

Worlds collide when the critics become involved in the whodunit.

Acknowledging media headlines in 2018, Falkenstein pulls attention to Birdboot’s exploitation of his position. The director does not gloss over the serious abuse of power in Stoppard’s text. It is an uncomfortable kind of laughter when Jurmain’s Birdboot vehemently denies any wrongdoing, reminding Moon that he is a family man, despite his inappropriate conduct being an open secret.

Falkenstein avoids the whole ‘crane your neck to watch Moon and Birdboot (who you suspected were part of the play but weren’t too sure)’. Instead, Richard and Jurmain sit on an elevated platform upstage center. Their seating area is nicely framed by the red-striped walls of Muldoon Manor (design by Devin Rockwell).

The mirror element of Falkenstein’s staging is visually interesting and thematically appropriate given Stoppard’s ideas on identity (Birdboot is Simon, Simon is Birdboot; What does it mean to play a role?).

Naojee dives deep into the melodramatic as Mrs. Drudge. She really knows how to sell an eyebrow raise. It is a delightful performance. Richard and Jurmain are enjoyable as the theatre critics. There is a starved look for recognition all across Richard’s Moon. Jurmain’s Birdboot has enough bravado for them both. Brenton is sharp as Felicity, the rejected love interest. Marney is lively as Cynthia. The war of words between their characters is wonderfully tense.

Rogers plays Simon as if Simon has convinced himself that yes, he is the madman on the loose. He is meek and suspicious, the total opposite of Pannier’s Magnus. Pannier’s Magnus is loud and brash. 

Temi Osunbunmi plays Inspector Hound, and it is a lot of fun when she enters as the incompetent detective. As Inspector Hound, Osunbunmi walks around in confident strides, as if the case is on its way to be solved, and gets up in peoples’ faces. 

And Sean Miller plays the body, which no one notices until Inspector Hound arrives on the scene.

After intermission: Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, which premiered in 1944.

The famous line “Hell is other people” comes from No Exit.

The play opens with a Valet (Sean Miller) showing Garcin (Hirad Hajilou) his new residence. The room is a modest one, with three couches and a fireplace — an immovable bronze statue sits on the mantelpiece. Hell looks a lot different than Garcin, a journalist in his former life, expected. There are no torture devices, or red devils with pitchforks. The Valet is unhelpful answering Garcin’s questions. Satisfied, the Valet leaves Garcin alone.

A postal clerk named Inez (Hannah Blizzard) joins Garcin in the room. She suspects Garcin is the torturer, otherwise why would she be left alone with him? Inez and Garcin are later joined by socialite Estelle (Mary Walker).

No one is offered any reason why they are in Hell, nor are they granted an explanation of what’s going to happen inside the room. Inez, however, guesses that their punishment is being locked inside with each other.

Garcin tries to set ground rules, one of which is that each of them has their own corner.

That doesn’t work.

Since there are no mirrors in the room, the characters are left to rely on how others see them. That’s true in two ways. Garcin is tormented by the fact that his colleagues will remember him as a coward. He wants someone to tell him that it isn’t true, that he did his best. Maybe then Garcin can find peace with himself.

Estelle cannot be that someone, because she has no feelings for cowards. And Inez refuses to absolve Garcin of his anguish.

The door opens suddenly, giving the characters an opportunity to escape. Garcin refuses to leave. Why? Because he cannot leave without convincing Inez that he is not a coward.

Watching No Exit reminds me of arguments on social media. It’s a specific kind of argument, though. I’m talking about the kind of escalating arguments that blow up underneath a Facebook post. Everyone can log off and move on with their day, but no one does because some people have to win. Some people have an intense need to prove themselves in front of friends and strangers. 

What does it matter? Whose mind has ever been changed because of an online argument? 

People convince themselves that they are right all the time, but what is really important for some people is that outside validation that confirms what they know. Without that, well how can you truly know what you know?

Sartre’s play is a compelling look at the ways people are flawed and vulnerable to each other.

Blizzard taps right into the wicked cruelty of Inez and makes the character feel like punishment eternal. Blizzard’s Inez is ruthless in the way she tears down the other two. Inez has her weak spots, though, and Blizzard turns on a dime marvelously. Walker — no doubt inspired by Paris Hilton (circa The Simple Life) — is strong in the role of Estelle. There is something dangerous about Walker’s Estelle, who is not so innocent as she appears. The actress maneuvers carefully between Estelle’s bubbly charm and her frigidness. And Hajilou’s Garcin is like a stone worn away by water, then split apart in a flash. The character tries keeping cool, but eventually Inez and Estelle break him. Hajilou’s downwards spiral into anger is fascinating to watch.

And Miller is devilishly charismatic as the Valet. The character clearly knows more than he lets on, and Miller has fun with the fact. He dangles it over Hajilou’s Garcin like a carrot.

Falkenstein’s direction moves the play thoughtfully. Although, there are some stretches of the production that feel a little too heightened, as if the needle is stuck on high. The overall effect is what a boiling pot must feel like for lobsters.

Rockwell keeps the room simple, as mentioned earlier, but elegant. It’s exactly the kind of room that would make someone ask “this is it?” while wondering what the catch is.


Theatre UNB’s There’s No Getting Out of Here Alive: Two Sinful One-Act Existentialist Comedies ran November 29 – December 1 at the University of New Brunswick’s Memorial Hall. The double-bill presented Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre.

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Float Comfortably with Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River

Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is like that chocolate chip muffin that turns out to actually be raisin. It’s still a muffin, so yay, but raisin? Well, okay.

Part of Theatre New Brunswick’s 50th anniversary season, Come Down From Up River is a world premiere production from The Foster Festival. The production, running at the Fredericton Playhouse, is directed by Patricia Vanstone.

Come Down From Up River stages a family reunion between Bonnie Doyle (Amanda Parsons) and her uncle Shaver Bennett (Peter Krantz). The two haven’t seen each other in 23 years, and Bonnie has been perfectly okay with that. Bonnie’s wife Liv (Kirsten Alter), on the other hand, thinks it’s sad that Bonnie wants no kind of relationship with her uncle. After all, doesn’t family stick together, no matter what? Well, Bonnie doesn’t think so, even though Shaver is all the family she has left.

Why is Bonnie so cold towards Shaver? She won’t tell. All Bonnie will say about Shaver, a logger from up around the Miramichi River, is that he’s a lout who will strongly disagree with Bonnie and Liv’s interracial, same-sex marriage.

And that’s all we know about Shaver until he steps foot inside their home.

Surprise, Shaver is actually an okay guy.

In fact, Shaver is super likeable. Maybe too much, though. Every time he cracks a joke, you wonder what messed up thing Shaver did for Bonnie to hate him. Was he part of a hate group? Did he kill his sister in that drunk driving accident? You can’t help but feel a kind of dread for the big reveal that Shaver is a monster.

Well, turns out Shaver didn’t accept guardianship of Bonnie after her mother’s death.

That’s bad, obviously, but not exactly everything Bonnie made him out to be.

Yes, Foster’s misdirection makes a point about stereotypes, but the way Foster just so weakly tackles racism and homophobia is disappointing.

The hate doesn’t come from inside the house, but the law firm where Bonnie works. She isn’t made partner because the firm’s biggest client has a ‘moral conflict’ about her and Liv’s relationship. Seriously fucked up, right? This news prompts an emotional speech from Liz about facing racism and homophobia everyday. Instead of walking around it, Liv says, she walks through it.

Walk through it? The play glides through it. Bonnie and her colleague decide to resign and start their own firm. That’s it. Bonnie doesn’t even drop her resignation letter into the hands of her employers. Instead, she tells Liv, it was their personal assistants who felt her wrath.

Cool?

Well, at least the playwright got to tell us how bad hate is.

If you want a fun two hours of characters trading quips, look no further than Come Down From Up River. It’s a funny play that happens to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick. Picture a combination of Ron Swanson and Uncle Buck, that’s Krantz as Shaver. He’s hilarious. And Alter, she’s fabulous in the role of Liv, a person who needs to know details even if it annoys the other person. It’s like a game of squash when Krantz and Alter share a scene together. It’s hit after hit after hit, with the walls vibrating with laughter. Parsons does a fine job of playing Bonnie, the tough one. Of course, she isn’t always tough. Bring a tissue.

Stage right, there’s a table and some bar stools, with a Moosehead sign just behind on the wall. Stage left, a hospital waiting room. And right in the center, it’s Bonnie and Liv’s living room with a couch and table where family photos are on proud display. It’s a simple set from Set and Costume Designer Peter Hartwell.

There’s a lot of sitting and talking, though it doesn’t feel like a lot. Vanstone breaks it up with some movement, just enough so the banter keeps from going stagnant. She keeps the play grounded in effective simplicity, wonderful for those emotional highs that come late in the play.

If you don’t think about it too much, Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River is a comfortable comedy.


Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River runs Nov 8 – 10 at the Fredericton Playhouse.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/come-down-from-up-river/

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/

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/