Join The Club: MacIvor’s Inside Examines Modern Life

Inside 0003 NB1_6928.jpg

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts presents Inside by Daniel MacIvor. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s Inside is far from optimistic about modern life.

Directed by MacIvor, Inside stages nine characters whose lives are set to collide minutes before midnight at a high-end nightclub. The urban dwellers are hopelessly lost in a world disrupted by social media – a network of mirages. The authentic is bled dry for fame and followers; presence in the 21st century. The search for belonging in the age of Web 2.0 has led the characters to form difficult, and sometimes harmful, relationships.

MacIvor has adapted the play’s narrative and characters to suit the student actors cast in this production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts,. The collaboration makes for an interesting blend of cynicism towards modern life. At some points, the cynicism seems to come from a Millennial’s viewpoint while at other times from the viewpoint of Generation X.

Take for example, the young, self-loathing activist Todd (Brandon Huszti). Todd sees a lot of problems with his generation, particularly the rise of selfies and artifice. Todd wants his generation, and everyone else, to look up from their phones, and he plans on achieving that with his devices (that won’t hurt anyone, he claims). The thing about Todd’s objective is, the objective seems concerned with returning to some sort of idealised past that Todd has never known, but only studied – like a freshman enlightened after taking one Philosophy course.

Then, there is Sana (Keshia Cheesman) and her sister Kara (Onika Henry). Kara, a lawyer, believes the only way to create meaningful change is to go through the proper channels. Kara believes that working from the inside is the most effective way to make change happen, while Sana stands firmly beside her method of making noise from the edges. Sana’s stance is not surprising given her obsession with social media, particularly its capacity to affect the offline e.g. produce celebrities like Kim Kardashian.

Sana and Kara’s argument boils down to this, what is the effectiveness of social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter? The skepticism of Generation X towards the influence of digital campaigns, versus traditional ‘analog’ methods, is well represented in Kara. Kara sees her younger sister as being naive for thinking that action without presence could have any impact.

Another interesting thread running through MacIvor’s play is the friendship between Jeanie (Paige Thomas) and Violet (Bianca Miranda). The emotionally abusive Jeannie exploits Violet’s kindness in order to satisfy her own interests. While Violet recognizes that Jeannie is not very nice towards her, she also recognizes that Jeanie is her only friend. Jeanie and Violet’s friendship is very much an exchange, as opposed to something founded upon mutual respect. It is a very cynical view of friendship that MacIvor presents us.

It is unclear what exactly MacIvor wants the audience to take away from Inside. MacIvor points out a lot of flaws about modern life, specifically emotional disengagement, but does little in the way of providing possible solutions. MacIvor’s concern for this road we are traveling down together is essentially a series of observations and thin arguments that land heavy without much subtlety. The play’s unrelenting cynicism makes it difficult for the audience to identify a common ground with the characters. The finale ultimately proves unsatisfying as it ends on a cheap moment of optimism that begs to be taken seriously.

MacIvor tries bleeding the scenes into each other with club music and dance, but the transitions feel hard nonetheless. The narrative’s episodic nature interrupts the steady momentum he tries to sustain in this ensemble piece. Fortunately, there is not much to move during transitions (set design by Skylar Desjardins) as the actors only have to move tables and chairs.

Anton de Groot’s edgy lighting design with Alex Allan’s pulse pounding sound work transform the Reeve Theatre into a nightclub, the evening’s hub for misery.

Thomas is absolutely vicious as Jeanie, a young woman abusing her disability leave. The audience is nearly on the verge of hissing at Thomas as she cuts into Miranda’s heartbreaking Violet without remorse.

Cheesman plays Sana confidently, as does Henry with Kara. The pair demonstrate that the sisters are, more or less, two sides of the same coin, even if they think otherwise.

Nick Wensrich delivers an eerie performance that burns slowly as Mason, a former soldier disturbed what he saw on deployment. He brings out the character’s manipulative personality that lays deep underneath his guise as a total schmuck. Vanessa Jetté emotes well Audrey’s vulnerability as a reluctant prostitute, hired by Mason.

Dylan Forkheim plays the nightclub’s manager Brian with the sleaziness most, if not all, nightclubs attract, though Brian’s sleaziness is punctuated by sadistic tendencies.

Kris Vanessa Teo’s free-spirited performance as Todd’s girlfriend Mary is a strong and much needed contrast to her boyfriend’s pseudo-intellectualism, played well by Huszti. Miranda’s Violet, pregnant, and Huszti’s Todd, on the way to enact his plan, play a rather touching scene together in the second act where the merits of modern life are debated.

While the ensemble manages well enough with MacIvor’s script, issues and all, there is a strong sense that the ensemble could go further with their performances. The ensemble might benefit from a more intimate space, because here the Reeve Theatre feels somewhat vacant, lacking in presence.

Overall, MacIvor’s Inside leaves much to be desired in terms of a narrative worth investing in. Audiences will feel disengaged by this play steeped in cynicism towards modern life. An underwhelming production that strays far from the SCPA’s usual fare.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Inside runs Nov 24 – Dec 5 at the Reeve Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit:


Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle Empty of Teen Spirit

Geoffrey Simon Brown's The Circle was produced by Alberta Theatre Projects as part of the Enbridge New Canadian Plays program. Pictured, left to right: Brett Dahl, Geoffrey Simon Brown, Eliza Benzer, Leanna Govier, and Daniel Fong. Image provided by Alberta Theatre Projects.

Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle was produced by Alberta Theatre Projects as part of the Enbridge New Canadian Plays program. Pictured, left to right: Brett Dahl, Geoffrey Simon Brown, Eliza Benzer, Leanna Govier, and Daniel Fong. Image provided by Alberta Theatre Projects.

Enjoying its world premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects, Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle is a new Canadian play that has been touted as a must-see for anyone under the age of 25. A bold claim if ever there was one. For The Circle suffers from an uninspired narrative, flat characters, and forced dialogue. In fact, young people may find themselves put off by the dishonesty staged in this “provocative” new play.

Directed by Anne Marie-Kerr, The Circle stages a late-night garage party, in the suburbs of Calgary, hosted by 18-year old Ily (Joe Perry) and his girlfriend Amanda (Eliza Benzer). Well, it was never supposed to be a party, just a small get-together with Will (Daniel Fong) and his boyfriend Daniel (Brett Dahl). But Ily just had to invite his childhood friend Tyler – or Mutt (Brown) as he’s known now – after reconnecting with him. And much to the annoyance of Amanda, Mutt brings with him another unexpected guest, his girlfriend Kit (Leanne Govier). The crowded get-together takes a turn for the worst when Ily realizes that a lot has changed in the years since he last saw Mutt.

Audiences will immediately notice the very liberal use of ‘fuck’ and other profanities spoken by the six troubled youth. With no adults around, it makes sense that the six teenagers (who range between 15 – 18) speak the way they do. The problem is, what does ‘fuck’ mean after the twentieth time? In the pursuit of authenticity, Brown weakens the audience’s emotional response to moments where cursing is justified, where a character really has nothing else to say but ‘fuck’.

And truthfully, Brown fails to give teenagers enough credit by suggesting that they are not capable of speaking their minds without resorting to excessive cursing.

Furthermore, Brown’s efforts towards authenticity gets in the way of telling a compelling story. Inside the garage, the kids drink, smoke pot, and just chill out. As long as the music is loud and pumping, nothing else matters – except for maybe Amanda’s AP classes. At first, the novelty of staging such an intimate look into the ‘secret lives of teenagers’ is fun, but the lack of any significant plot development is a real wet blanket. The audience knows Ily and Mutt will eventually come to blows as Mutt says and does all the wrong things at the party, but until then the audience is trying to figure out what this party and these kids are all about.

Slowly, but surely, Brown reveals what these kids are all about, and it is very simple: they are young and just trying to figure life out. All easier said than done, of course, especially in the face of loss and damaged relationships. The issues at hand will certainly resonant with some audience members, but unfortunately the characters lack any depth worth investing in. The haste in trying to establish authenticity for six characters while trying to remain edgy derails the dialogue, making it feel as forced as just about any hashtag or meme spoken out loud.

Much has been made about the fact that Brown is a 26 year old playwright. We have to assume that the point of mentioning Brown’s age is that we are going to tell ourselves that if anyone is going to write about young people with any success, it is going to be a young new playwright. That is not the case here. The representation of youth staged here feels out of touch with the complexity that defines adolescence. No doubt, Brown’s writing has the potential to tell many truths, but in trying to capture a broad image of youth, Brown captures very little of it. There is much to be desired in terms of proper time with these youth not just for the sake of a worthwhile narrative, but for young people to recognize themselves in the mirror that the stage always holds to the audience.

Kerr’s direction sees the six youth animated as if they were in a music video or Degrassi: The Next Generation montage. All sorts of antics take place inside the garage, strangely none of them are documented on social media. The blocking certainly reflects fun, but Kerr might do well to let scenes sit and breathe every once in awhile.

Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s costume design is mostly on point, but Kit’s goth/punk appearance looks dated by at least 10 years. Myspace might be a better fit for Kit than this high school party. The same can be said about Anton de Groot’s sound design (Eminem’s Without Me was released in 2002), but the soundtrack is mainly successful in getting that youthful spirit.

We learn being a high school dropout stoner is not exactly the life Ily wants for himself, but the party is too good to worry about that now. In Perry’s performance, we see Ily’s fear and regret that he tries to push down with good times. Benzer emotes well Amanda’s frustration, if not resentment, towards her loser boyfriend. Dahl does the most he can with Daniel’s vagueness, specifically the character’s long-winded monologue about fear, faith, and losing his mother. Fong also tries bringing more to Will, which he does when the nature of his and Daniel’s relationship is made clear. Brown and Govier share a particularly emotional scene together, one that sparks excitement in the play again (although too late, perhaps).

Is The Circle a must-see for anyone under the age of 25, as ATP claims? No. Certainly, what the play tries to say about youth is important, but young people will struggle to identify with this shallow representation of their everyday experiences. In fact, young people may feel that the play owes them more than what it offers.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle runs October 20 – November 27 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit:

The Truth, or Some Version of It: Theatre BSMT Stages Drader’s Liar at Motel Theatre

Theatre BSMT's season opener Liar, by Brian Drader, ran October 6 - 10 at Motel Theatre. Pictured: Carolyn Ruether (Sherri) with Simon Tottrup (Jeremy) in background. Image provided by Theatre BSMT.

Theatre BSMT’s season opener Liar, by Brian Drader, ran October 6 – 10 at Motel Theatre. Pictured: Carolyn Ruether (Sherri) with Simon Tottrup (Jeremy) in background. Image provided by Theatre BSMT.

The truth is invaluable, or at least we like to think it is. There are times when honesty is not the best policy because sometimes, the truth is unkind. When truth becomes displaced, white lies make lofty nests. And as Ben and Sherri Ingles (Grayson Ogle, Carolyn Ruether) discover in Brian Drader’s Liar, these nests are lined with patient thorns.

Presented by Theatre BSMT, Drader’s Liar tells a compelling story about family, loss, and the lonely journey towards closure. And it begins one night at a gay bar where Sherri’s estranged brother Jeremy (Simon Tottrup) meets a strange drifter named Mark (Corey Joyce). And maybe the reason why Jeremy joins Mark on the roof of a building for some beers is that he seems harmless enough, despite leading Jeremy on.

The next morning, Jeremy is found dead, and only Mark can answer the question of whether he fell or jumped.

Ben and Sherri’s marriage is in trouble, the love that was once there is just an act these days. Ever since their four-year old son disappeared, Ben and Sherri have never been the same. And so, Sherri becomes desperate to establish a relationship with the person who was there for her brother’s last hours in order to find closure. Unfortunately, the closure Mark provides is dishonest. Mark was neither Jeremy’s boyfriend, nor a co-worker at the hospital where he worked. Slowly, good intentions reveal themselves as something more sinister.

The Canadian playwright demonstrates the shattering effect of loss on the human psyche. Ben is quick to suspect Mark has ulterior motives, especially as he starts entering deeper and deeper into the couple’s personal lives, while Sherri takes anything this stranger has to say about Jeremy (and himself) as gospel. The audience may find Sherri gullible, if not totally irrational, but is she really? Consider how psychic mediums claim to have the gift of communicating with the deceased, and the fellowship they amass by those who so desperately want to believe. From the outside, the whole idea is nonsense, but to those affected by loss it is something, which is easier to accept than the complete absence of a person.

And it is this vulnerability that Mark preys upon. What makes Mark such a threat is that, as a drifter, he has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Given this, Mark can be anything anyone wants him to be, as he shows with Ben who he wins over by becoming his new drinking buddy. In Mark, Drader reflects the malleability of truth, the versions of truth we seek out and, sometimes to our own peril, lose ourselves in.

Unfortunately, DJ Gellatly’s direction feels too relaxed for such a gripping narrative. If the production’s pace were tighter, then perhaps the pauses and silences would be more effective than they are. As it is, Gellatly traps himself and his actors within a fairly limited range where these breaks have little significance in the face of the menace and anger from which they are born from.

Where Gellatly has some success in the staging of this play is in keeping the actors actively involved at various periods within this web of broken truths on stage. Something so simple as having Ogle review his tapes downstage while a scene plays out upstage behind him benefits the dramatic tension by adding layers to the action.

Ruethers’ has some difficulty capturing the emotional nuance of her characters’ arc, effectively lacking punch when the script calls for it, but there are moments where the young actress really digs inside and shines. Ogle is very expressive as Ben whose emotions read clear across his voice, face and gestures. The actor moves with tremendous purpose, even when the character is unclear of the situation. And that makes it all the more unsettling how such a strong-willed character is won over by a mysterious stranger. Jeremy, who appears briefly throughout, is played well by Tottrup who delivers as a troubled youth in need of presence.

Joyce has the challenge of playing a manipulative character ready to change persona at the turn of a dime, and ultimately it does prove too challenging for the actor. A part of the problem is that Joyce rarely shows the same genuineness with Ben and Sherri that he does in scenes with Tottrup’s Jeremy. The audience is never given the chance to doubt Ben’s suspicions about Mark, to be surprised when Mark’s true colors are revealed. Joyce’s performance as the evening’s catalyst for emotional ruin leaves much to be desired.

The use of the Motel Theatre’s windows as both the city’s nightscape and Ben and Sherri’s house windows is smart given the theatre’s limited space. Lisa Floyd’s atmospheric lighting design makes the theatre space feel intimate, if not deeply personal.

Although it may fall short in some areas, Theatre BSMT’s production of Liar still manages to provoke its audience to consider the many ways we lie to each other and ourselves, and what that means in the long run. And no doubt audiences will think about this on their way home from the theatre.

Theatre BSMT’s production of Brian Drader’s Liar ran Oct 6 – 10 at Motel Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit:

U of C Grad Student Working to Bring The Arts & Social Sciences Together

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can't Cross a Bridge.

Playwright Sherryl Melnyk after the staged reading of her new play Can’t Cross a Bridge.

Sherryl Melnyk’s new play Can’t Cross a Bridge was read aloud publicly for the first time this Monday night at the University of Calgary’s F.R Matthews Theatre. The staged reading was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work.

But whereas much of the work in the annual student festival has been largely fictional, Melnyk’s play differs in that it is rooted in real women’s stories of abuse.

Can’t Cross a Bridge tells the story of Velma and Lizzy, a mother and daughter estranged for 16 years. One day, a surprise call from the RCMP informs Velma that her daughter has returned. But hanging over their reunion are secrets from the past, painful secrets that Lizzy can no longer keep inside.

Melnyk is completing her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, combining studies in English, Drama, and Women’s Studies/Sociology. Can’t Cross a Bridge is one component of her PhD dissertation.

The first component, the social science component, saw Melnyk interviewing 21 women about their sexual histories. From that research, Melnyk chose three of the stories that she thought fit together the best, then synthesized them for the play. The last component comprised of theory, discussions around the creation of the work.

Melnyk says her work is focused on bringing the arts and social sciences together, disseminating research through the arts as a means of creating meaningful dialogue surrounding social issues.

“I think what happens to a lot of research is that it’s wonderful research, but it’s lost in journals,” said Melnyk. “No one really reads it but other academics. I think a better combination of the arts and social sciences working together is going to make it more accessible to the public at large.”

And of course, her research could not have been possible without participants willing to share their lives openly with Melnyk.

“I started out my research trying to understand if women are kind of moving beyond the traditional view of women in sexuality; Woman as part of the male gaze, woman in pornography, woman as victim…How have women’s stories changed, that’s how I started my interview with all the people that participated.”

“I think what was really interesting about all of the women I interviewed was the fact that they wanted to tell their story. They want people to hear it. They want women to be empowered through their stories. All different ages sat down with me and spoke. Some of them were an hour, and some were two and half hours about their life history.”

For Melnyk, the intimacy theatre grants between audiences and ideas is necessary for not only bridging the arts and social sciences, but also bringing these women’s stories to the community.

“I think you could see it tonight in the gasps and the reactions of the audience. The sadness, the laughter, the drama that is created through theatre. I think it speaks more to our heart and soul than reading an article.”

Melnyk hands in her dissertation on April 24th, then defends it later next month.

The staged reading of Sherryl Melnyk’s Can’t Cross a Bridge was presented by the School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work. The festival runs Mar 31 – Apr 11th, 2015.

For more information about the festival, visit:


Lizzy – Jacqueline Dyment
Velma – Val Campbell
Lester – Brian Smith
Andrea – Courtney Charnock


Director – Dawn Mari McCaugherty
Stage Directions – Siobhan Cooney

“If Only We Could Let It Be What It Is”: MacIvor’s A Beautiful View Asks What’s In A Name

Would a rose be as sweet if it had no name at all? Presented at The Studio (Vertigo Theatre), Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View criticizes our need to label relationships. Thanks to the chemistry of its two leads, Sage Theatre’s production of A Beautiful View, directed by Jason Mehmel, captures MacIvor’s signature wit.

The play begins with L (Stacie Harrison) and M (Monice Peter) who, rather cryptically, decide to revisit their past together, all the while being aware of the audience. Their story begins when they meet each other in a store while shopping for camping gear. From this meeting, an attraction develops between the two. The attraction, though, is neither totally friendly or romantic; it just simply is. But, as the years go on, the question of defining what they are soon makes its way to the forefront of their relationship and, as a result, breeds tension between the two.

MacIvor confronts his audience with a deceptively simple question: what is in a name? For the playwright, the act of naming something, especially something so personal as a relationship, is political. Continue reading