Sappier Makes Debut With Finding Wolastoq Voice

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Aria Evans in Natalie Sappier’s Finding Wolastoq Voice, presented by Theatre New Brunswick. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

The final world premiere production of Theatre New Brunswick’s 49th season is Finding Wolastoq Voice, the debut work from Indigenous artist Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahq (The Water Spirit). Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, Finding Wolastoq Voice stages the awakening of a young Wolastoqiyik woman as she reflects on family, healing, and identity. 

The production, running at TNB’s Open Space Theatre, features interdisciplinary artist Aria Evans (dancer/choreographer).

In Sappier’s play, the beginning and the destination are, in some ways, one and the same. There is something circular about the personal, often difficult journey that the young woman embarks on. She moves away from her family only to return again. Of course, the young woman doesn’t return the same. Life experiences and guidance from her ancestors push the young woman to see beyond herself and see herself in others, namely her mother. She learns forgiveness and that makes both her return and a new beginning possible.

Evans performs on what has the appearance of a large medicine wheel. The set, designed by Andy Moro, has two tiers. In the first, each of the four quadrants are filled with sand, and they are divided by small canals of water. The second tier is a wooden platform raised in the middle, with a glass-covered opening in the center for light to shine through (lighting design by Moro).

What’s interesting about Evans’ choreography is the vulnerability and unease that comes through in the movement, but also the resilience that pushes the character forward. Of course, that resilience is challenged at certain points, but nonetheless it remains. Evans’ movement captures the anxiety of being displaced, of not feeling a sense of belonging. The sand plays an important part in this personal investigation as Evans pushes it, spreads it, and eventually comes to make peace with it. Rough waters calm with time, but, as Sappier warns, it’s easy to lose one’s footing and be swept away. Evans’ choreography is exciting and articulate.

Although the script could be more concise, Sappier’s writing is rich in vivid imagery, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given her creative background. The set truly feels like an extension of Evans and her character. And Moro’s lighting choices sync well with the stages of growth in Sappier’s play.

Finding Wolastoq Voice is a confident debut.


Finding Wolastoq Voice by Natalie Sappier runs March 8 – 18 at Theatre New Brunswick’s Open Space Theatre. The production will tour across the province March 21 – April 6. 

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/finding-wolastoq-voice/

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Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria at The Fredericton Playhouse

She may tell you otherwise, but Victoria is a talker.

And she’s a heck of a dancer, too.

Presented at the Fredericton Playhouse, Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria explores the life of its titular character, an elderly adult living with dementia. Energized by a vivid imagination, Victoria (Dulcinea Langfelder) is a little bit of a troublemaker. Just ask the Orderly (Erik Lapierre) who assists Victoria.

Langfelder’s choreography and staging plays with the intersection of the biographical and the medical. In an exquisite tango number, Langfelder, returning to an earlier time in the character’s history, turns Victoria’s hospital gown into a fancy dress. In a collision of identities, one being internal and the other external, Victoria’s past meets her present when Langfelder begins to dance with the character’s wheelchair. Later, using the Orderly’s shoes, Victoria performs a tap dance, in which the steps, no doubt ingrained into her muscle memory, are all there, but her movement is slack; it is a dance between lucidity and deterioration.

The subject of old age is approached with grace and profound expression by Langfelder, who has been performing Victoria since 1999. The character is not someone Langfelder wants her audience to pity, but someone she wants us to understand and view in all her complexity. And that’s make this multidisciplinary piece, based on an original idea and texts by Charles Fariala, not only refreshing, but important, too. Popular media tends to position elderly adults in secondary roles where their value is often directly related to their usefulness. That is, older people are either portrayed as wise mentors (ex: Alba Villanueva from Jane The Virgin) or a burden on their families (ex: Grampa Simpson from The Simpsons). There is little to be seen about the aging experience i.e. what it means to grow old, let alone life with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s.

Ana Cappelluto’s set features little else but beige hospital curtains, an appropriate visual contrast to Victoria’s animated spirit. The curtains are used in several ways, including fantastic sequences of shadow theatre, a game of hide’n’seek, and setting Victoria up for hilarious innuendos. Cappelluto’s lighting syncs well with the flow of Victoria’s imagination. The progression of Victoria’s dementia is also shown through stunning, almost hypnotic, video projections (Technical Director: Vincent Santes; Sound/Video: Bruno Lavoie; Videos: Yves Labelle).

It’s rare that a performer can be funny while evoking a genuine sense of loss, but Langfelder manages to do exactly that. Even while portraying Victoria’s worst state, Langfelder finds the right balance between humour (a goofy, immoral/immortal hand puppet) and reality. Lapierre impresses with the stirring vitality of his performance, particularly in the “Cheek to Cheek” number.

Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria is a beautiful, genuinely moving production. Langfelder’s inspired performance should not be missed.


Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.’s Victoria’s was presented on February 14th, as part of the Fredericton Playhouse’s Spotlight Series.

For more information about the show,
visit:
http://www.dulci-langfelder.org/creations/victoria

To learn more about the Spotlight Series, visit:
http://www.theplayhouse.ca/spotlight/

 

Joyful Magpies’ Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017

Let’s look back on Fredericton theatre in 2017

In March, Next Folding Theatre Company premiered Fred Nebula, directed by Artistic Director Ryan Griffith. The science-fiction play was developed collaboratively between eight writers. Fred Nebula was “delightfully weird” and sometimes socially relevant. Some things never change, not even in the furthest reaches of space, surrounded by aliens and robots. People still like to tell and be scared by ghost stories, and there’s still no place like home. Prejudice exists, too. Everyone’s welcome – as long as they come from the right ‘planet’. What made the show interesting was how in one moment, the audience could be laughing at the characters making reference to the mythical New Brunswick cougar, and the next be asked to reflect on our region’s response to the refugee crisis.

In the same month, Theatre New Brunswick premiered a stage adaptation of Alistair MacLeod’s The Boat, directed by Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. The adaptation was written by Griffith, who would appear again at TNB in the fall. The son of a fisherman remembers life in a small fishing community bound by tradition and at the mercy of the sea. Here, The Boat was concerned with irreversible change. Once things change, can they ever return to the way things were? Considering the significant number of young people who have moved west in search of better prospects, this “small, yet mighty drama” likely felt all too familiar for some New Brunswick audience members. Thinking back on The Boat, the characters lived in area (Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia) where families stayed for generations. That’s becoming a strange concept nowadays, isn’t it? People in the workforce are becoming increasingly mobile (and grateful for Ikea as a result). Gone are the days when someone might stay with a company for decades. How has our concept of home changed in the gig economy? Can a sense of community prosper in areas where ‘no one is from here, but everyone works here’?

The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival returned this summer for another showcase of New Brunswick talent. The festival staged theatre in various locations around the city, including the Fredericton Public Library (Site-Specific Production) and the Picaroons Roundhouse (Play Out Loud Series). This year’s Mainstage Production, presented at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, was Grace Notes by Patrick Toner. New Brunswick actors Leah Holder and Warren Macaulay, both of whom live and work in Toronto, returned to Fredericton for Grace Notes. Directed by Clarissa Hurley, Grace Notes tried to illuminate the local, namely the role of propaganda in creating cultural narratives that marginalize and exploit ‘others’ for the benefit of institutions, by staging the global, with inspiration taken from real world events. It was an ambitious play that struggled to “bring together its big ideas in a way that [connected] on a deeper, more personal level.”

The winners of NotaBle Acts’ playwriting competition in the Acting Out category were Jean-Michel Cliche with his entry Hinter and Caroline Coon (who also appeared in Grace Notes) with It Happened At A Party. The winners were provided with dramaturgical support by playwright Anna Chatterton. Both plays were presented as a double-bill at Memorial Hall, on the University of New Brunswick campus. Directed by Sharisse LeBrun, Hinter imagined a future where Nature reclaimed the Earth and buried almost all signs of  human civilization. Two sisters return home, at least where it once stood, and try to resume living their old lives. It’s a fantasy, of course, because nothing remains but their memories. Stripped of artifice, the characters of Hinter struggle to make peace with the past, their broken dreams, and each other. In It Happened At A Party, directed by Tilly Jackson, the truth about what happened at a highschool party is taken to court as a teenage girl deals with bullying at school and online.

In October, Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves enjoyed its world premiere at TNB. Jones directed the production. The “fabulously imaginative” play struck a good balance between its human and science-fiction elements. Its tense, melancholic atmosphere fit well with the fall season. Griffith’s characters were many shades of truth and experience.

And most recently, TNB staged a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Nora McLellan performed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, marking the first time in TNB’s history that a woman has played the character. The production, directed by Anne-Marie Kerr, was “fun, fast, and full of surprises” and featured  “splendid set and lighting design.”

Note: there is an entry missing from the website for Solo Chicken Productions’ The Bridge Project because rain ended the event early. On September 8th, The Bridge Project transformed the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge into a “living time tunnel” where community groups and artists animated Canadian history. Our country’s story was told through a number of perspectives that sought to represent the fabric of our community and elevate the presence of marginalized groups.

At this point, Joyful Magpies would like to present its Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017 list. There were many highlights this year, so creating this list was not easy! Congratulations to everyone who shared their talents with Fredericton audiences this year.

Joyful Magpies’ Best of Fredericton Theatre in 2017

Best Actor in a Play

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Jon De Leon – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Warren Macaulay – Graces Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Actress in a Play

Kimwun Perehinec – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Nora McLellan – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Leah Holder – Grace Notes – Notable Acts Theatre Festival

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Graham Percy – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Corenski Nowlan – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Joel Diamond – Grace Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Caroline Coon – Grace Notes – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Honorable Mentions:

Sophia Black – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Amelia Hay – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Set Design

Joanna Yu – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Samuel Crowell – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Mike Johnston – Grace Notes – Notable Acts Theatre Festival

Best Lighting Design

Leigh Ann Vardy – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

David DeGrow – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Michael Holmes-Lauder – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Sound Design

Deanna Choi – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mention:

Michael Holmes-Lauder – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Best Costume Design

Katherine Hall – Fred Nebula – Next Folding Theatre Company

Honorable Mention:

Sherry Kinnear – The Boat – Theatre New Brunswick

Best Direction of a Play

Thomas Morgan Jones – Fortune of Wolves – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:

Sharisse LeBrun – Hinter – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Anne-Marie Kerr – A Christmas Carol – Theatre New Brunswick

A Christmas Carol Returns to Theatre New Brunswick

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The restless spirit of Jacob Marley (Ijeoma Emesowum) visits Ebenezer Scrooge (Nora McLellan). In the background: Andre Morin. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol returns to Theatre New Brunswick with a new adaptation by Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. Nora McLellan features in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, marking the first time in TNB’s history that a woman has played the character. The production, directed by Anne-Marie Kerr, runs at the Fredericton Playhouse from December 14 – 16, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

Let’s talk about the set and lighting first, because…wow.

Set designer Joanna Yu presents an industrial warehouse aesthetic with four giant shelves – one on each side with the other two upstage – stocked with props and furniture, and a pair of rolling stairs. (Up above are chairs suspended by wire). Yu’s set is not only eye-catching, but very appropriate given the Industrial Revolution’s impact on British society and Dickens as both an author and social critic.

And it’s all beautifully lit by Leigh Ann Vardy. Vardy employs shades of blue for a ghostly, chilling effect. This is a ghost story, after all, and it’s winter. There are also warm shades of green and orange for more jovial moments, like the Ghost of Christmas Present’s introduction.

Everyone from Mr. Magoo (later parodied by The Simpsons) to The Flintstones to the Muppets has told their own version of A Christmas Carol. Therein lies the challenge of staging A Christmas Carol. By this point, everyone knows the story, even if they aren’t familiar with the source material. So, how do you tell the story in a way that surprises people again?

Fast, fun, and full of surprises, TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol enchants with its theatricality. The ensemble, acting like an otherworldly theatre troupe, pull various props from the shelves to tell the story and create different settings. For instance, what looks like an ordinary door knocker turns into that scene from Stranger Things where the Demogorgon tries to push out of the wall. The effect is created with actress Katie Swift pushing her face through a framed painting of a door knocker. It’s terrifying.

What’s really interesting is Kerr’s choice to block the scene between young Scrooge (Andre Morin) and his fiancée Belle (Swift) in one of the shelves. Suddenly, Yu’s industrial-looking warehouse reveals its true purpose – the warehouse is Scrooge, and its stored with his memories, if not unconscious mind. Perhaps then, the miser’s journey with the spirits exists somewhere between internal conflict and supernatural phenomenon. It’s a different take on the classic tale that gives it a just a little more dimension.

However, Kerr stumbles with McLellan’s entrance as Scrooge. McLellan’s entrance ends with a top hat lowering onto her head, as if the hat were some cultural icon that deserves something so dramatic. What happens next is that the hat looks ridiculous because there’s a small metal ring (where the wire hooks) poking out for no reason other than that one ‘cool moment’.

What happened to the Ghost of Christmas Present’s dress?

Ijeoma Emesowum enjoys a fabulous entrance as the happy spirit, but then she turns and there’s an exposed wire cage sticking out behind her. Either there was a costume malfunction or it’s an intentional design choice by Sherry Kinnear. Likely the former given that the spirit is supposed to have an overall big presence, and a similar form is used for another dress just a few scenes before. If intentional, it’s a choice that really doesn’t pay off. The cage steals a lot of attention from everything else. Otherwise, the dress is lovely with its bright festive colours.

McLellan brings a nice touch of dry humour to Scrooge. Don’t fret, McLellan’s Scrooge has plenty of humbugs to pass around. Everyone who dares wish Scrooge a merry Christmas or, worse, asks him to part with his money is met with the popular catchphrase. This hint of humour makes Scrooge’s redemption all the more joyous because the character’s hardened exterior melts away to fully reveal the good-nature that had always been.

Speaking of goodness, Sophia Black is an absolute delight as Tiny Tim, among her other roles that include the Ghost of Christmas Past. Your heart may just break a little when the cheery young actress walks on as Tim, and then a little more later when the Cratchits are missing a seat at their table.

Also in the cast are Adrian Choong and Mark Crawford who like everyone else, besides McLellan, play multiple roles. Notably, Crawford plays Bob Cratchit, later the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Kinnear has dressed the spirit as what looks like a plague doctor, with glass eyes and a bird beak. It’s a strong choice that’s unsettling from far away, and a fitting one since the spirit is there to cleanse Scrooge (by showing him death).

All in all, it’s a fine production of A Christmas Carol. There are elements that help reinvigorate Dickens’ heartwarming tale, and then some that don’t quite hit the mark. Still, audiences looking to escape the winter blues will more than likely feel uplifted by TNB’s production of A Christmas Carol. If nothing else, they will walk away impressed by very splendid set and lighting design.


Theatre New Brunswick’s A Christmas Carol runs Dec 14 – 16 at the Fredericton Playhouse, then at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre on the 17th.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/a-christmas-carol/

A Howling Success: Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves Premieres at Theatre New Brunswick

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Theatre New Brunswick presents Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves, Oct 12 – 22 / 24 – 30. Left to right: Michaela Washburn, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Graham Percy, and Kimwun Perehinec. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is a fabulously imaginative play about a young man named Lowell (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, and others) who encounters the strange and inexplicable while travelling across Canada. According to TNB, no performance during the show’s run will be the same. Dice are rolled before every performance to determine which of the more than 40 characters Lowell will meet and interview. In its entirety, the show would run over nine hours long. How long is the show actually? Approximately two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission. So, the chances of a repeat performance are slim.

Lowell’s entire world is empty after the death of his parents. Wanting to recapture sound, Lowell sets out on a cross-country adventure from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Tofino, British Columbia. Along the way, he documents the lives of everyday Canadians using his voice recorder. That’s the plan, anyway. What Lowell doesn’t know is that he may in fact be documenting humanity’s last days on Earth.

Of course, no one knows right away that the world may be ending. The strangest thing Keith (Graham Percy) from Perth-Andover can tell Lowell is about a friend who claims he met God while in a coma. When not drunkenly complaining about a town that thinks it’s a city, Stacy (Michaela Washburn) from Fredericton mentions that someone from her boyfriend JP’s work disappeared recently. In Waterville, Lowell learns from a hospital worker named Emma (Kimwun Perehinec) about a patient who disappeared without a trace. It’s not until Lowell arrives in Montreal that he and other people start to realize that the reported disappearances are not isolated, but part of a larger unknown phenomenon.

What makes Fortune of Wolves a howling success is its refreshing and grounded approach to the science fiction genre. Aliens. Starships. Experiments run amok. These classic images associated with science fiction are nowhere to be found, or at least their implied presence is very minimal, in Griffith’s play. Instead, the New Brunswick playwright focuses on what’s at the very heart of science fiction: ordinary people against extraordinary circumstances. And no scene better encapsulates Fortune of Wolves than Dwight’s monologue.

Montreal resident Dwight has earned a pay raise at work. The bump in pay means that he and his girlfriend can now stay a little more ahead of their monthly bills. Tragically, Dwight’s girlfriend dies suddenly in her sleep. What is a greater unknown than death? He is reluctant to leave his girlfriend’s body to call for help, fearing that her body may disappear. Of course, it’s not about aliens abducting people. It’s not even about the world ending. For Dwight, the world has already ended, and his only connection to the world he knew and cherished is his girlfriend. It’s a powerful and very human monologue about loss that breaks the heart thanks to a delicate and nuanced performance by Gonzalez-Vio.

Anyone curious about the ‘no performance is the same’ concept should know that yes, it does actually matter. Going in, I was skeptical about the concept, because what difference does it make if I’m only going to see the play once? So what if this performance may only exist for me and none of my friends? Here’s the thing, Lowell records frequent travel updates, and in them he references events the audiences may or may not have seen in scenes prior. It’s really cool to hear Lowell speak about something I was lucky to see in this performance of the play. It’s also really cool to hear about what I didn’t get to see, to let myself imagine what else is happening to the characters that inhabit Griffith’s apocalyptic Canada. Such excitement over the play’s other stories is super dependent on the quality of the script. In that sense, it’s an incredibly risky work of drama, because frankly nine hours of material doesn’t mean a thing if no one wants to sit through any portion of it.

And so, would I see the play again? Yes. I want to hear from the other characters. I want to discover their stories. I am so curious to know the full scale of the play’s mysterious phenomenon. I wouldn’t even mind if, somehow, it was the exact same performance, because there is just so much to appreciate in the script. Griffith’s strongest quality as a playwright is writing characters who you feel like you could meet one day, either walking down the street or in your apartment building. The script’s elegant introspection will stay with you and may even call you back inside the theatre.

There is something haunting and turbulent about the atmosphere created by Composition and Sound Designer Deanna Choi. Somehow, Choi makes TNB’s Open Space Theatre feel at once intimate (which the space is) and very large. Perhaps it’s the melodic eeriness that follows Lowell combined with the violent rumbling, that feels as if the whole world is trembling, that comes periodically. David Degrow’s lighting design adds to the production’s otherworldly atmosphere with its moody character and emphasis on silhouettes.

Director Thomas Morgan Jones’ approach to staging Fortune of Wolves is economical. When not delivering monologues, the non-speaking actors perform movements either in the background or around the actor speaking, and/or they represent an extension of Lowell. While Jane (Perehinec) explains the Fermi Paradox and Great Filter to Lowell, the other actors run in circles on stage, swirling around her like stars and Lowell’s brain trying to grasp the cosmic significance of these two theories. Other times, the non-speaking actors perform small, repeating movement patterns.

This cast that TNB has brought together is immensely versatile. Gonzalez-Vio disappears into his characters, transforming head-to-toe from scene to scene, and portrays Lowell’s disintegration with vigor. Perehinec’s confident and engaging stage presence makes her shine as Jane and Casey, an army medic with no left to report to. Perehinec’s Casey is an endearing character that anyone would want by their side at the end of the world. Percy is seriously, seriously frightening as the unhinged and sadistic Ed who nearly ends Lowell’s journey prematurely. Washburn’s Zoe speaks profound truths with a smile and peppiness that makes one almost forget that the actress also really knows how to play a cantankerous old woman.

Anything is possible in science fiction. The genre embraces the extraordinary and imagines circumstances and worlds so unlike our own. And yet, in works of science fiction, we often find ourselves and truths that have deep meaning towards the way we live. Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is one such work of science fiction that holds profound meaning for both today’s world and the world of tomorrow. Theatre New Brunswick’s world premiere production is a must-see.


Theatre New Brunswick’s Fortune of Wolves runs October 12 – 22 at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton. Then, the production will tour New Brunswick from October 24 – 30. For more information, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/fortune-of-wolves/

Hinter, It Happened at a Party Debut at NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Hinter by Jean-Michel Cliche and Caroline Coon’s It Happened at a Party are this year’s winners of the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s playwriting competition in the Acting Out category. For winning in their category, Cliche and Coon received dramaturgical support from playwright and librettist Anna Chatterton. Audiences can see the winning one-act plays at Memorial Hall, located on the University of New Brunswick campus, where they are being presented as a double bill until August 5th.

Nature has reclaimed the earth in Hinter, directed by Sharisse LeBrun. Val (Amanda Thorne) and Missy (Telina Debly) are sisters trying to survive the post-apocalypse and return home – well, whatever is left of it anyway. The wild has buried much of humankind and its achievements.  Seemingly, humans went too far in their pursuit of gaining purpose and were subsequently punished for it by the animals. The animals have divided themselves into different classes, each fulfilling an important function to maintain their dominance over humankind.

A stranger named Calvin (Ryan Griffith) finds Val and Missy’s camp. Calvin claims to be a Guardian, a special class of human that protects the young, and that there are many others like him, searching for others to help. The sisters are hesitant at first to trust Calvin, but then eventually decide to accept his company.

There are three layers to the world that Cliche has created here: (1) the New World, dominated by nature (2) the Old World, buried underneath the wild (3) memories of the Old World, otherwise known as home. Val and Missy’s memories of home are almost ghostly in the way that they can be seen (down to the floor plan of their house) but never lived again. Returning home is a futile attempt at going back to the way things were.

And so, it is an interesting choice by LeBrun to have Val step outside of the stage – effectively removing her from all three layers of the world – and deliver a monologue about her home life. The blocking certainly provides intimacy with the audience, but what about the fact these characters have just retraced their steps back home? Going home is as much spiritual as it is physical. There is a sense of a missed opportunity for Val to walk through her former life on stage, to guide the audience through her introspective journey.

The set is simple enough with two big tree stumps serving as seats around the campfire, logs of wood on top of a circle of rocks. There is a large camping tent, set up by Thorne and Debly, stage left. Strangely, the trees are represented by a long plastic looking material, split down the middle, that hang from up high. The flimsy material really seems misplaced alongside the tree stumps, logs of wood, and rocks – the aesthetic of an earth reclaimed by nature. Yes, there is a kind of depth and image of wild growth achieved, but then the camping tent – a product of the Old World – and the trees look too similar, contradicting the primary conflict at the play’s core.

There is an ambiguity as to whether or not Calvin is telling the truth about the Guardians. What feeds that ambiguity is Calvin’s obsession with hero narratives – saving the day from the big bad wolves that prey on innocent life. Is Calvin simply a hero in his own mind or has he really been tasked by a secret group of magical protectors with saving the next generation? He wouldn’t be the one who’s chasing a fantasy. Griffith makes this ambiguity interesting with the way he is calm with a very slight aggression underneath.

Although sometimes the script loses its footing, the conclusion is very satisfying, albeit with the exception of one thing, Left for dead, Val comes face-to-face with one of the monsters (Alex Rioux, wearing a large animal-like skull with massive antlers and fur). LeBrun’s perceptive study of the scene, in addition to her eye for theatricality, produces a confrontation that is magnificently melancholic, yet hopeful. The play feels so emotionally and thematically complete at this point that it’s really too bad that it’s not the final scene! And that’s nothing against Debly who closes the play with a brief scene afterwards; knowing when to end something is hard.

***

Directed by Tilly Jackson, It Happened at a Party tells the story of Camilla (Kelsey Hines), a high school student invited to a house party hosted by popular student athlete Ryan (Alex Fullerton). Joining Camilla are her friends Tyler (Robbie Lynn) and Lexi (Mallory Kelly), a couple in a problematic relationship. The group of friends get drunk together at the party. Tyler is the only one worried that Camilla may be too drunk. Lexi doesn’t think so, and neither does Ryan who flirts with Camilla all night. After Tyler and Lexi leave, Ryan invites Camilla to lay down in his bedroom, and then the truth about what happened that night is taken to court.

Coon’s It Happened at a Party seeks to raise awareness about consent and sexual assault. The subject matter is very important, especially for young people. For some parents and educators, teaching sexual education is uncomfortable and something that would preferably be avoided altogether. As a result, some young people are left to figure out a lot on their own, including how to define a healthy relationship.

Coon recognizes social media’s damaging effect on the victims of sexual violence. Online, classmates actively try to damage Camilla’s reputation and credibility by spreading false information about her; she becomes a target of cyberbullying. The students show a lack of understanding – and concern – that their words have consequences in the real world. The aftermath of Camilla’s coming forward with her story leads her to feel alone, powerless, and trapped within a (larger cultural) narrative twisted against her.

Unfortunately, the play struggles to push its subject matter in a way that satisfies the question, “what does this play contribute to the conversation?” There is a lot that Coon wants to say with It Happened at a Party, as evidenced by the bloated script’s frequent jumps from scene to scene to scene. But there is a distinct lack of focus and individual voice throughout, perhaps a result of the 60-minute limit for entries in the Acting Out category. In trying to cover everything, Coon has written a play that’s not only flat, but missing the kind of urgency that generates discussion on the drive home (and hopefully beyond that, too).

For the set, there are three large rectangular panels upon which images are projected. The setup is put to good use by showing images of posts on popular social media sites about Camilla, along with text messages between students. The set can be described as minimalist, likely necessary in order to accommodate the number of scene changes.

Jackson’s direction produces a steady pace for the play. Although, time and place are loosely established.

Hines carries the show with ease as Camilla. The actor demonstrates great expression with an ability to deliver emotional highs and lows. The ensemble do a good job working together in a play that tackles serious issues.

Although there is a clear enthusiasm for education and awareness, Coon’s It Happened at a Party is a play in need of more work. The script might benefit from another look where the perspective is refined and its characters are given dimension. Maybe then, the play will have more weight that goes beyond its surface.


Hinter and It Happened at a Party were presented as workshopped productions.
The plays ran August 3 – 5 at UNB’s Memorial Hall.

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

Grace Notes Returns to the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Returning this year to the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival is Patrick Toner’s Grace Notes. Grace Notes was first presented last summer as part of NotaBle Act’s Play Out Loud series, where new plays in development are given public readings. Audiences can catch Grace Notes at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre, July 26-29.

Directed by Clarissa Hurley, Grace Notes tells the story of Sergeant Grace Neil (Leah Holder), a recently demoted member of the military police. She is given the ‘easy’ assignment of Junior Pipe Band Instructor in the Territories. The band is comprised of young Tribe followers. There is a deep mistrust by the West towards those who follow the religious teachings of Tribe, with Tribe being unable to fly on airplanes as just one example.

There, in the Territories, Grace is reunited with her sister Magda (Caroline Coon). She also becomes acquainted with Solomon (Warren Macaulay), the pipe band’s drum major. Solomon is a Tribe activist guided by dangerous ambition. He pressures Grace to question the truth of everything the West has told her, and many others like her, about Tribe. Grace eventually opens herself to Tribe teachings as she becomes more involved with life (and Solomon) in the Territories.

A lot is broken in this world that Toner has crafted, with clear inspiration from the state of global affairs today. Solomon carries the weight of a traumatic childhood, memories of occupation. What motivates the character to push towards despicable acts is the immutable narrative that has emerged from the Territories. Solomon is frustrated by the fact that nothing has changed, only worsened. There are drones now that fly overhead and are capable of massive destruction. And the local people have become accustomed to air raids, heading into underground shelters when the sirens blare. The possibility for peace through diplomacy has long been ruined for Solomon; violence begets violence.

Grace Notes offers its audience interesting commentary not only about the world at broad, but also the treatment of ‘others’.  One of such key moments is when Captain Boisclair (Joel Diamond) informs Grace that her pipe band has been invited to play in the West. Grace recognizes the invitation for what it is: propaganda. It is a clear demonstration of the way in which (typically) marginalized groups of people are used by institutions to publicly convey and reaffirm their values, then are discarded and forgotten once their temporary purpose has been fulfilled.

On a similar note: given the real-world parallels here, kudos to Hurley for not attempting to play up the ‘foreigness’ of the Tribe characters.

Toner’s ambitious scope is certainly worthy of praise, but it is too bad that the characters are underdeveloped. More could be done to explore and reveal the struggle of these characters trapped at the mercy of powers beyond them. And it is frustrating when there are glimpses of where Toner might peel away layers only for him to rush through the emotions and move onto the larger story at play. (Toner should consider expanding the play into two-acts). Imagery of bagpipes and food steal focus from characters in a play stuck on a higher metaphorical level.

Thankfully, the production is gifted with a talented cast that help enrich the human factor of Toner’s play. Holder expresses her character’s shifting loyalty through subtle movements that speak volumes. She really has that capacity to take a character through an emotional arc. Macaulay’s back and forths with Holder’s Grace are fascinating to watch. He is a great antagonist with his ability to make words creep and crawl, planting seeds of doubt along the way. Holder and Macaulay are a strong pairing. A recent graduate from Brock University’s Dramatic Arts program, Coon brings a subdued intensity to Magda that she knows how to use to its fullest effect. So, it is a shame that there is not more Magda (see paragraph above) in the script because Coon shows promising range. (And what a singing voice!) The same can be said for Diamond who really only gets to play towards the end, where he’s not delivering exposition. Devin Luke plays the minor role of a lawyer, a character put in to help advance and frame the plot.

Back to Hurley’s direction, she manages very well with the numerous scene jumps that take the audience to different locales in the past, the future, and the present. The actors travel across the stage fluidly and with clear intentions that help establish space. There could be some restraint on animated projection images in the background (ex: grainy aerial footage) since the detailed play-by-play from the characters stand on their own.

Mike Johnston’s set design is very conscious of the demands of the play. As a result, the set pieces are mobile and dynamic. In one scene, the set pieces are used as bus seats; the next, they form a wall and the entrance to an underground shelter. Chris Saad’s lighting work in the play’s final moments make for an exciting conclusion. There is effective sound design by Mike Doherty who delivers a robust sound for the action sequences. Costume designer Sherry Kinnear gives Macaulay a military jacket that has strong hints of ‘revolutionary’, very fitting for his character’s appetite for justice – justice as he defines it.

Grace Notes is relevant today in a world where our collective future grows more and more uncertain everyday. Although thought-provoking, the play struggles to bring together its big ideas in a way that connects on a deeper, more personal level.


Patrick Toner’s Grace Notes runs July 26 – 29 at the Black Box Theatre, 7:30PM nightly.
For more information about the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, including tickets and the complete schedule: https://nbacts.com/the-festival/