With Love, Josephine and Gullywhump at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

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Greg Everett’s Gullywhump — Abraham (Scott Harris) and the Gullywhump (Laura-Beth Bird). Image from 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 (Gullywhump) and Sophie Tremblay-Pitre (With Love, Josephine). Everett and Tremblay-Pitre’s one-act plays, presented as workshopped productions, are running together as a double-bill at Memorial Hall. Both plays received dramaturgical support from playwright Rob Kempsen, NotaBle Acts’ artist-in-residence for the 2019 festival.

Moving between the past and present, Tremblay-Pitre’s With Love, Josephine tells the story of Jo (Mika Driedger) and her grandmother, Josephine (Julianne Richard). It’s 2018, and Josephine has recently passed away. Her former lover Charles (Miguel Roy) visits her house to drop off a box of keepsakes to her daughter Lynn (Kelsey Hines). Among the keepsakes is Josephine’s diary which Jo begins to read in secret. 

The year is 1956, and Josephine is a young woman trying to make her own choices in life. She wants to marry Charles, but her family doesn’t approve of him. Why? Charles is not from a wealthy family, and he’s French. Josephine’s mother Dorothy (Hines) has someone else in mind for her daughter, someone who would be better for her future. Josephine struggles with self-doubt and fear of failure. She feels helpless against the expectations of her mother, her community, and the man she loves. 

Josephine’s story mirrors the issues Jo is facing in the present. Both women are trying their best, but their best doesn’t seem good enough for anyone. Loneliness begins to creep in as so much of their story is wrapped inside someone else’s. And so, what hope can either Jo or Josephine feel for the future when they can’t see their authentic selves ahead of them?

With Love, Josephine sees English and French sharing the same stage. Although it’s not necessary to know French, a basic comprehension of the language does help with appreciating the flavour of Charles’ dialogue. It’s important to note that sometimes Charles makes an effort to translate his thoughts into English, for the benefit of Josephine and some portion of the audience. The play’s bilingualism enriches the drama between Josephine and Charles.

The production is visually interesting with characters entering and exiting from different points of Memorial Hall. Blizzard transforms Josephine’s home into a place where past and present clash just as much as they melt into one another. 

Driedger brings tenderness to the role of Jo, a tenderness that Hines squashes as Lynn and Dorothy. Hines plays the mother characters with the firmness of someone hardened by experience. She is a steamroller run amok. Richard is fantastic as Josephine. Richard and Roy bring out a lot from the other. Anthony Bryan plays the character of Tom with a cool light-hearted energy.

Directed by Miguel Roy, Gullywhump tells the story of two brothers and their pilgrimage to spread their sister’s ashes. Elisha (Alex Rioux) and Saul (Alex Fullerton) revisit painful memories from their childhood as they venture towards Abigail’s final resting place. The brothers are not alone in the cursed forest of Burntland — the same setting as Everett’s Carrion Birds which premiered last year at NotaBle Acts. In pursuit of the two brothers is a Gullywhump (Laura-Beth Bird), a creature of darkness from their father’s old stories. The audience learns the story of the Gullywhump from Abraham (Scott Harris) in segments.

Don’t let all the talk about black magic and the supernatural fool you, Gullywhump is at its heart a story about coping with loss and trauma. Eli and Saul’s trek through darkness revolves around transformation and letting go. The dark is in between and all around the brothers. They can’t see the other in front of them. Eli and Saul project their regrets onto the other person. The brothers’ pilgrimage is a journey towards the light, towards clarity and understanding. 

The Gullywhump is a mysterious, nearly unimaginable creature. Is it a monster? No, maybe not. That seems inaccurate. The creature, animated wonderfully by Bird, is seemingly the physical manifestation of fear and death. Its true form is difficult to grasp, yet its presence is known. Abigail (Brenna Gauthier) befriends the Gullywhump before taking her life. 

And so, Gullywhump is not a play about a monster that needs a stake impaled through its heart. Yes, there is a monster, and that monster is the children’s father Abraham who sexually abused Abigail. The ritual of laying Abigail to peace is grounded in healing. Abigail’s spirit joins the Gullywhump in meeting Eli and Saul. Eli puts his knife down as everything becomes clear. The siblings, imbued with each other’s strength, can go their separate ways now. Abraham, who spoke so gleefully of the creature, finds himself vanquished by the Gullywhump.

Gullywhump is a heavy play, and it is also at times hard to decipher. Everett leaves ample room for interpretation. It is a compelling play, though, with its vivid imagery and poetic qualities. Roy’s direction keeps the play moving at a brisk pace. The scenes between Abraham and the Gullywhump are almost dream-like in their fluidity and intensity.

Harris is frightening in the role of Abraham. He appears on stage as a ghoul, and he floats like one too. The way the actor snaps his fingers and dances to his characters’ telling of the Gullywhump is unsettling. Rioux and Fullerton do well in their roles of estranged brothers. The brotherly conflict is tense. Gauthier breathes energy and a soft earnestness into the character of Abigail.


With Love, Josephine and Gullywhump ran as a double-bill August 1 – 3 at Memorial Hall. 

Fruit Machine Premieres at NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

 

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Fruit Machine is one of two Mainstage productions at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. Pictured, left to right: Lucas Tapley, Samuel Crowell, Kira Chisholm, Esther Soucoup, and Dustyn Forbes. Photo Credit: Matt Carter.

Alex Rioux and Samuel Crowell began working on Fruit Machine in 2017. At the time, Rioux and Crowell were members of the Solo Chicken Productions’ the coop ⁠— a platform for contemporary artists to create original works of physical theatre. In May of last year, a work-in-progress showing of Fruit Machine ran before another production from the coop, A Record of Us.

Fast forward to this summer: Rioux and Crowell, in collaboration with members of the coop, have developed Fruit Machine into a full-length production, and it is one of two Mainstage productions at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

Presented at the Black Box Theatre, Fruit Machine explores the decades-long purge of gay men and lesbians in the Canadian military and RCMP. The ‘fruit machine’ was a device designed in the 1960s by Frank Robert Wake, a psychology professor from Carleton University, to detect homosexuality in subjects, who were unaware of the machine’s true purpose. Cold War paranoia motivated the witch-hunt as officials believed gay personnel could be blackmailed by Soviet spies, effectively making them threats to national security. 

What unfolds in Fruit Machine, which uses physical theatre to interpret historical texts and quotes, is a story of betrayal. We meet men and women who are betrayed by their peers, their families, and their country. We enter a world of secrecy, of coded language, and hidden intentions. It is a dark chapter of Canadian history that is almost too hard to believe, especially from the perspective of a young millennial.

Rioux and Crowell present moments that express the same kind of disbelief. These are moments that could appear in any episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. One standout moment is when the actors shuffle across the stage while holding newspapers to their faces (no eye holes). It is entirely comical, again straight from a cartoon, because this period of history seems so outlandish from a young person’s point-of-view. Seriously, a man couldn’t drive a white convertible car or wear a ring on his pinky finger without people thinking he was gay? We are soon reminded that these seemingly trivial actions had life-altering consequences.

Fruit becomes a powerful image in the play. It is an object that holds a lot of significance for the characters and their relationships with others. Fruit is something to be discarded. Fruit is something to be destroyed. Fruit is something to be embraced. Fruit is something that connects people. The inanimate objects are transformed into characters, and the actors respond to them accordingly. The result is beautiful storytelling told through eloquent movement.

Rioux’s direction smartly crafts an intimate atmosphere with characters weaving in and out of the action on stage. There are moments where the connective tissue seems loose, leaving the play and its network of characters feel a bit disjointed. Still, the scenes manage to be effective on their own. The director stages scenes of palpable heartbreak and tightening dread.

The company — Lucas Tapley, Dustyn Forbes, Kira Chisholm, Esther Soucoup, and Crowell — proves versatile with every scene. The actors jump effortlessly from the physical demands of the play to its segments that are more documentary-style. 

Fruit Machine is emotionally devastating. A must-see.


Fruit Machine ran July 23 -25 at the Black Box Theatre as part of the 2019 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival.

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

Old Burial Ground is Subject of New Site-Specific Work

For the last six months, local playwright Greg Everett has been busy researching and writing about the Old Burial Ground in Fredericton. The site, located downtown between Brunswick and George, is the subject of Everett’s site-specific work Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place. The play “explores the history of the Old Burial Ground itself, the personal histories of the people at rest there, and the relationship that people have with the space today.”

On Friday, May 31st, Everett will present a public reading of his new play at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Photographs of the site and commentary from the playwright will accompany the reading. The free event will start at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

I spoke with Everett, whose project was made possible through a Creation grant from artsnb, to learn more about the site-specific work.

How did your project benefit from the grant?

The grant has, in a broad sense, provided me with the time and headspace I’ve need to tackle this project. It’s my first full-length script, which is a challenge in itself, and it’s the most research heavy, community relevant piece that I’ve ever undertaken. Before artsnb awarded me the grant, I was working three different casual jobs in order to be able to earn a living while still having enough control over my schedule to pursue my career as an artist. The money has gone toward my subsistence and bills for the six months of the project duration, and I’ve been able to rent a small space at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in which to write; those two things have made a world of difference in my ability not only to focus on my research and my craft, but also to work on my professional development as an artist. Part of the mandate of artsnb’s Creation grants is to help artists reach the next stage in their career and I can unequivocally say I am achieving that through this project.

What did your research for this project look like? What kind of sources were you looking at to learn more about the Old Burial Ground?

When I made the proposal, I set a timeline with two months of research and four months of writing. But almost as soon as I started working on it, that idea of two distinct phases went out the window. The play itself is an anti-chronology wherein histories, eras, stories, voices, all overlap; its an effort to reflect the idea that all of the tangibles and intangibles and ephemera representing a place pile up in a very real way. The whole project quickly began to reflect this idea as well, and so instead of approaching the research as piecing together the straight-line story of the Old Burial Ground from 1787 to 2019, in essence I started to root around in the pile and collect a few things in order to convey an authentic sense of place. So while I was reading the ubiquitous Loyalist histories that mention the Old Burial Ground, and historian Lousie Hill’s catalogue of the plots and stones, and newspaper archives, and genealogies, I was also just plain talking to people about their feelings, their memories, anything they had to say about the site. And that created a feedback loop where I was researching and writing in an ongoing cycle. For instance, one thing that came up with a lot of the people I’ve spoken with is the idea that there are no bodies in the Old Burial Ground, and that the stones were moved from somewhere else. Naturally that lead me to try and find out anything I could about that story (spoiler alert: it’s just a rumour), which opened up another avenue of traditional research that I wouldn’t have otherwise explored and subsequently written about.

What is about the Old Burial Ground that captured your interest?

The Old Burial Ground is almost like its own monument; a crumbling, grim presence that denotes the remains of a dead thing. I’m definitely drawn to that aesthetic. But what really fascinates me is the way that the burial ground has obstinately squatted in the heart of the city for two hundred and thirty years while Fredericton has grown up around it. On top of that, it’s very much alive in the ways that people come into contact with it at present: there are always people cutting through to get downtown, there are often people checking out the graves, some just hanging around, kids there to sneak cigarettes, drunken escapades after the bars, etc. etc. etc. It’s an anachronism, in a couple of different ways, and the more I thought about that, the more I wanted to explore it. And in a very self-indulgent way, I knew that no matter what shape the project took, I would be able to write about ghosts. I would say one of the defining qualities of all of my work is an earnest attempt to create a world where ghosts and monsters and revenants are all direct embodiments of buried stories and experiences that have unburied themselves to trouble the present. The Old Burial Ground allows me to manifest all of that in my site-specific efforts.

Can you tell me about the decision to create a site-specific work? Why do you think it’s necessary to bring an audience to the site?

I’ve been interested in site-specific theatre since the final year of my undergrad (around 2013), but it’s only in the past year or so that it’s become a big part of my artistic sphere. I feel that, for me, at this point in space and time, it’s the answer to an ever-present question: how do I make meaningful art? The notion of place and landscape, and their visceral connection to identity and self, have long been central themes of my work, but always at a great distance; generally I bring a simulacrum of rural New Brunswick to the stage. And I’m still doing that, but as a next step in my career, I’ve been looking toward more ambitious projects.

With site-specific theatre, I’m not working in imitations or simulacrums, and I’m not trying to manufacture a feeling or a reaction. I’m allowing those things to develop organically from the audience’s interaction with the site. I’ll here quote from the book CROSSFIRING/MAMA WETOTAN, which originally inspired my interest in site-specific art and which has helped to form the theoretical framework for my play: “the site-specific form invites spectators to encounter the site with a heightened awareness and to develop connections among themselves in relation to the space used, to the inherent notion of temporality, and, of course, to the artworks presented.” Part of what the makes the Old Burial Ground so compelling as a site is that so many people already have some sort of connection to it, even just as a cut-through between Brunswick and George, and that’s an integral part of the play as well: the relationships that people have with it today.

One of the central tensions regarding the site, and thus in the play, is the question of public access, and so a site-specific performance goes beyond addressing that tension through themes to confronting it directly. Again I’ll quote someone who can say it better than I can, in this case Nick Pearson in his book Site Specific Performance: “Site specific performance describes a way of being in place and has the capacity to reshape locales that are considered fixed and immutable.” Ideally, this script, and eventually the performance of the play, will help people approach the Old Burial Ground in a state of mindfulness about all that it has been, and all that it is, and ultimately begin to write the story of what the site will be going forward.


Friday, May 31st: Join playwright Greg Everett for a public reading of Written in Marble, Buried in Earth: The Spirit of a Place. The free event starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 

“Something Weird is Going to Happen”: Corenski Nowlan Talks About New Play #Swipers

This May, Theatre St. Thomas brings the world premiere of Corenski Nowlan’s #Swipers to the Black Box Theatre. Nowlan’s latest play is described as a “light-hearted romantic comedy for the Tinder generation.” To some degree, Nowlan says, that’s true. What Nowlan wants everyone to know is the whole thing is a big catfish. 

In other words, expect the unexpected.

“For ethical and legal reasons, we can’t have anyone going in blind,” Nowlan said. “They have to be aware that something weird is going to happen.”

That’s why the Facebook event for #Swipers has a lengthy content warning:

Content Warning: Expect the unexpected. This is unconventional, immersive theatre. All potential audience members must understand that the play is not what it seems. Through the use of lights, sound, projections, and masks, we are crafting a unique atmosphere that could unsettle some people.

Recommended ages 16-and-up. Moderate use of strong profanity. Safely choreographed fight scenes. Use of flashing lights. If you suffer from PTSD, an anxiety disorder, or a heart condition, please attend at your own discretion.

What’s the full story? It’s a secret, at least until opening night, but Nowlan believes the production will deliver an experience unlike any other.

“In terms of a live event. I guarantee no one is never going to have an experience like this again,” Nowlan said. “I think a lot of people are going to walk out bewildered at what they just participated in.”

For a long time, Nowlan believed #Swipers would always remain an idea, an impossible production that no one would ever put on stage. That all changed when Nowlan met Dr. Robin Whittaker, TST’s artistic producer, and pitched him his idea for #Swipers.

“This guy, he’s going to think I’m crazy,” Nowlan said. “He didn’t. He loved it!”

Nowlan and Whittaker started meeting regularly in late 2017. The two spoke for “hours and hours” about how they could “safely and ethically” manage the veil of secrecy around #Swipers. A year and a half later, Nowlan and Whittaker were ready to hold auditions.

“We told everyone at auditions, right from the beginning, we are doing something very unconventional,” Nowlan said. “This is going to be very experimental, immersive theatre. You may not like it. It may trigger you in different ways. So, we told them that anyone was free to drop out if they wanted to. We were prepared to have a second round of auditions after we did the casting. But miraculously, every single person that we offered a part to took it. They have been super enthusiastic about it.”

For Nowlan, #Swipers is an opportunity to shake people out of apathy and bring new faces to the theatre.

“I always think of theatre as, you know, it really lost out to film and TV this past half a century,” Nowlan said. “Theatre used to be the main cultural vehicle for storytelling, Everyone would go see plays. Now, theatre communities have really shrunk. What I hear from people who don’t go see theatre is oh, it’s boring.”

“It’s about that. What can you do to truly engage an audience in 2019? In 2019, people are not easily shocked by anything. As a culture, we have become so desensitized to gore, violence, and scenes of a sexual nature. What can you do to make a play interesting?”

The playwright says #Swipers has a lot to do with fear, politics, and the impact of technology in our personal lives.

“It is definitely a play that is a product of 2019,” Nowlan said.


#Swipers, written and directed by Corenski Nowlan, runs May 2 – 4 at the Black Box Theatre. 7:30pm nightly. $10 General / $5 Students + Seniors

Meet Laura-Beth Bird, Founder and Producer of Grey Rabbit Theatre Co.

In 2018, Laura-Beth Bird left her job at a local restaurant to pursue her dream of starting a theatre company. The 24-year-old theatre artist had a plan and the savings to start her first show. Then, reality hit.

“I ended up having to use that money to live for two months, which kinda threw a wrench in the whole system,” Bird said. “So, I had to go back to the drawing board.”

Born in Shropshire, England, Bird’s family moved to Canada when she was 10-years-old. Her family settled first in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then later Saint John, New Brunswick. Bird relocated to Fredericton to study at St. Thomas University, where she graduated from in 2017.

When her plans went awry, Bird began to wonder if her theatre company would become something that only happened on weekends.

“I was miserable in the job I was in. Anyone who saw me knew it,” Bird said. “I was panicking thinking that I would have to go back to that. I was going to be forty…doing my art on the weekends because that’s maybe when I could get the days off. I didn’t want that life.”

The “kick in the butt” motivated Bird to apply for Planet Hatch’s ARTtrepenur-in-Residence program. Bird was accepted into the program and started her three-month residency in June. The residency ended with an evening of new play readings. It was the first public event hosted by Fredericton’s newest theatre company, Grey Rabbit Theatre Co.

“Planet Hatch helped me network with larger business communities in the region,” Bird said. “That in turn helped me with strategic funding and planning for five, ten years down the road.”

In the fall, Bird participated in ArtsLink NB’s CATAPULT Arts Accelerator.

Bird has also received support from Fredericton’s theatre community.

“Everyone has been helpful about knowledge and experience,” Bird said. “If they know people, they will put me in contact with them. If we continue to create that sort of practice, it makes people more successful in the region.”

Bird realizes trying to launch a theatre career in Atlantic Canada is somewhat unorthodox.

“Many of the people my age are leaving to Toronto or New York because they feel like they have no opportunities left in Atlantic Canada to be artists,” Bird said. “In the last year, I have been researching ways to make this work. I don’t want to move right now to a big city where I will be a small fish in a big pond. I would rather be a medium fish in a medium pond.”

“That means I take scripts being created here — by emerging and professional artists — and help them reach either stages by myself producing them or matching them with other producers in the area.  If it doesn’t work for mine, it may work for Eastern Front or Neptune Theatre.”

Does Bird agree that Grey Rabbit could be considered both an incubator and a presenter?

“Kind of, yeah,” Bird said. “At this moment, I feel like as I’m learning these things, I am also sharing it with my artistic community, because I want my artistic community to thrive as well.”

In December, Grey Rabbit, in partnership with Theatre St. Thomas, held a workshop for artists seeking to professionalize their artistic practice.

Have all the developments of the past year changed how Bird views herself as an artist?

“I don’t really notice a difference. My friend does. She told me I look healthier and happier, which is hilarious for me. I’m not doing anything different,” Bird said. “I think I am more confident and much more ambitious than I was. I am not willing to let things go. I have to chase after it. If I don’t chase after it, it’s not going to happen. I am more tenacious and cognizant of the way the world views me because what I’m creating is an extension of myself.”

Bird’s idea of what it means to live as an artist has changed since starting on this path with Grey Rabbit. 

“I’m going to go work on my art which is my business,” Bird said. “ If I have a consistent income, I have more freedom to practice my art. Having a stable business gives me freedom to create. I don’t have to worry about if my power is going to be shut off.”

So far, Bird sees her time divided 60/40 between the business operations of Grey Rabbit and its artistic end. “I spend a lot more time filling out grant applications and writing than I do creating. It’s just the season that I’m in.”

This year, Grey Rabbit is launching The Vardi Puppet House. The children’s puppet theatre will tour Atlantic Canada in the summer.

A Vardi is a gypsy caravan that is pulled by horses. They were things I came across as a child, and I’ve always loved them,” Bird said. “The puppet house is designed to look like a gypsy caravan. It will be bright red, with wagon wheels. There will be windows that open on the side for the performance. It will have that classic painting technique used on most caravans, and I will use Punch and Judy stylized puppets.”

Bird describes the puppet house as a platform that “lends itself well to public events” and is ideal for helping grow a viewership base. 

Grey Rabbit is currently accepting new scripts for The Vardi Puppet House. The submission deadline is February 28th, 2019.  

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/