The Only Good Boy Scrapes The Surface, Misses The Mark

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Left to Right: Wendy Froberg and David Sklar in Theatre BSMT’s The Only Good Boy by Chelsea Woolley. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes Photography.

Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre BSMT, Chelsea Woolley’s The Only Good Boy stages a tense reunion between 23-year-old Jacob Stevenson (David Sklar) and 43-year-old Monica Winters (Wendy Froberg). After finding her online on a dating website, Jacob invites Monica, a former school teacher, over for supper at his place. Jacob’s place, Monica notices, is very dirty as he’s in the middle of moving to Florida, so he says anyway. Monica ignores it, turning the discussion towards her outfit, then Jacob’s family. Years of hurt and regret surface as the two catch up.

Jacob tries and tries and tries to push Monica to recognize the trauma he has been burdened with for 10 years. He wants Monica to acknowledge that what happened between them was real and it ruined his life, but she dodges any mention of the past, running away from the truth she knows deep down inside. There is no major confrontation. Jacob and Monica call it a night, leaving Jacob painfully unsatisfied and Monica distressed.

Within the play’s first fifteen minutes or so, the nature of the traumatic experience that ties Jacob and Monica together reveals itself through subtle clues in the dialogue. The truth landing with a big thud soon after. Woolley’s handling of the subject matter is less than elegant. What is the playwright’s intention? Is it to shock? If it is, Woolley certainly succeeds in that with Monica’s three (uncomfortable) monologues that act as a window into her damaged psyche. Beyond that, however, what is the audience supposed to take away from this dramatic meeting between victim and perpetrator?

The characters operate independently from each other, trapped in their own minds. Jacob and Monica’s meeting almost seems like an excuse just for these characters to talk at us; to drop ideas and themes. Yes, the play focuses on the varied consequences of abuse and neglect, but that’s only one part of the equation. Dramaturgically, why are these characters meeting each other right now, right here other than to dance around the conflict at hand?

There is a very real and serious issue in Wolley’s drama, winner of the 2016 BSMT Dwellers Playwriting Competition, but unfortunately the playwright scrapes the surface of familiar territory. Not to dwell on what the play could be, but there is a sense that the play might function better as a slow-burn than a drama where all its cards are played prematurely.

All that aside, however, the construction of Woolley’s dialogue is fascinating. The rhythmic quality of Woolley’s dialogue hits home the desired emotional effects. While the play’s structure may be lacking, its dialogue certainly is not with its menace driven by the almost musical repetition of key phrases.

Thankfully, director Kyle Schulte has a sense, too, of the rhythm in Woolley’s dialogue as the show is well-paced.

There is menace, too, in Benjamin Toner’s set that sees Jacob’s living space, its walls lined with dirty moving boxes, collide with a floor full of mulch. Seriously. The entire floor is covered in mulch, which Sklar’s Jacob aggressively digs into over the course of the play, at one point finding old birthday cards from Monica. Sound Designer Aidan Lytton produces real anxiety in these revealing moments. There is a real serial killer vibe – like corpse stuffed inside an oil drum – given off by Toner’s swampy set, and Lisa Floyd’s brooding light work.

That’s also perhaps because Sklar delivers an unsettling performance as Jacob, switching back and forth between friendly and unhinged on the fly. Although, the unhinged side to Jacob is always present in the actor’s performance, but uncomfortably restrained. A strong performance. Froberg, too, finds these moments where she walks a fine line between Monica’s facade (an airhead) and her real self. She digs into a dark place for her character’s disturbing monologues with great success. Both actors make it difficult to know what exactly to make of their respective characters.

Although not explosive, Woolley’s The Only Good Boy is a worthy new drama of staging. There are elements that fall short, certainly, but then there are elements that really, really work. And Theatre BSMT demonstrate that they are the right company to stage the premiere of this play with their strong, articulate production.


Theatre BSMT’s The Only Good Boy by Chelsea Woolley runs May 17 – 21 at the Motel Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html

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: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html

Before The Night Takes Us Lurks, Bumps

Kas Nixon as Alison in Ryan Reese's Before The Night Takes Us. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes.

Kas Nixon as Alison in Ryan Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us. Photo Credit: Colton Holmes.

Alison (Kas Nixon) hasn’t been sleeping well lately. Nightmares of grisly murders torment the frustrated clarinetist who has all but lost her ability to play. When Ray (Joel David Taylor), a telepathic pianist, walks into Alison’s life, she is soon thrown into something more sinister than she could ever expect.  For Alison, things are only going to get worse (and weirder) before they get better.

Presented by Theatre BSMT, Ryan Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us is a suspense-filled drama that trips over its paranormal premise.

For a character whose abilities are even a mystery to him, Ray sure seems to have a lot of answers, or a lot of good guesses. Part of that is due to Reese being quick to change/expand the rules of Ray and Alison’s telepathy when convenient. Of course, Reese is faced with the challenge of both establishing ground rules to adhere by and fleshing out a whole story within 120min, so wild assumptions by the characters are to be expected. Still, one cannot help but feel that the drama is undermined by fluctuations in the play’s logic.

Thankfully, Amy (Samantha Duff), a no-nonsense detective, gives the play immediacy, a sense of danger. While Amy trusts Ray’s abilities, Amy also needs answers now. She can’t wait on Ray to unlock the secrets of Alison’s dreams, especially not when there is a serial killer loose in the city. For Amy, the clock is ticking, and every minute that goes by is another minute where someone’s life is in danger.

But again, there are some problems with the play’s logic that are hard to ignore. The truth about Alison’s dreams raise questions about what kind of office Amy is working in that none of her colleagues or superiors would notice something off about one of their top detectives. And despite having access to her case files, in addition to her mind, Ray fails to recognize any inconsistencies with the investigation.

These issues aside, Reese intrigues with the general greyness of the characters – greyness in terms of his characters’ true motives, their murky pasts, and their relationships with one another. As we become more acquainted with Alison, Ray, and Amy, the loneliness of these characters become more apparent; the search for a connection more potent. And that is mainly what carries our interest through to the end: the fate of these characters thrown together against strange circumstances.

Unfortunately, the play proceeds at a choppy pace, mainly due to its scenes of varying lengths and their hard transitions. When the lights come down, so too does the energy. The dip in pace is partly due to the odd configuration of just one entrance/exit. Director Kyle Schulte might have opted for a set-up that allows better flow between scenes, rather than one where there is a good amount of unused physical space (which would feel emptier if it were not for some instruments laying around).

Taylor rises to the task of playing the piano live on stage. He and Nixon share good energy together on stage. Though Duff is who most catches our eye with her menacing presence. Fortunately, Nixon holds her own in her clashes with Duff. The two are a sharp pair that respond to each other effectively.

A murdery mystery with a paranormal twist, Reese’s Before The Night Takes Us catches our attention with its grey characters, but then loses us with its thin logic.


Theatre BSMT’s Before The Night Takes Us runs May 6 – 9 at Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html

Theatre BSMT’s !Duranged! Is a Fun, Bizarre Evening at the Theatre

“Safe” is not a word that appears in Playwright Christopher Durang’s vocabulary. If one needs proof of this, then one only needs to look to Durang’s ‘dentity Crisis and Wanda’s Visit. And conveniently for us, Theatre BSMT has packaged the two for its latest production.

Presented at Motel Theatre inside the EPCOR Centre, Theatre BSMT’s double header !Duranged! is an evening of absurdist humour injected with high-energy antics.

First up is ‘dentity Crisis, the evening’s more bizarre play. Coming off a recent suicide attempt, Jane (Elisa Benzer) is trapped at home with her overbearing mother, Edith Fromage (Hayley Feigs), who claims to have invented cheese. Jane’s brother Robert (Alan Johnson) offers no solace as he is not only passionately in love with their mother, but he is constantly turning into Jane’s father, her grandfather, and a French count. Jane’s only ally seems to be her psychiatrist Mr. Summers (DJ Gellatly) who helps her cope with her psychosis.

Benzer does well not to play her lines for laughs, instead going for the dark, disturbed nature of her character (as she best demonstrates in her “Peter Pan” monologue). In doing so, the ensuing absurdity has somewhere to go as opposed to hitting us at 100% from the beginning , which would exhaust the audience.

The escalating nature of the piece is laugh-out loud funny. The actors fully commit to the outrageous hijinks that hit one after another from beginning to end. (It gets to a point where even the sight of Gellatly’s ridiculous facial expressions draw big laughs from the audience).

Unfortunately, some of that eagerness leads to some stumbling on lines.

As well, the momentum of the play is interrupted by the poor build of the two doors on stage. Every entrance and exit makes the door frames wobble, giving the actors a hard time when they try to shut the door behind them. It is enough to cause a dip in the energy.

Jane loses grasp of reality and her own identity in Christopher Durang's 'dentity Crisis. Pictured (left to right): Alan Johnson, Hayley Feigs (Back), Elisa Benzer (Front), DJ Gellatly. Photo Credit: Chelsey Fawcett

Jane loses grasp of reality and her own identity in Christopher Durang’s ‘dentity Crisis. Pictured (left to right): Alan Johnson, Hayley Feigs (Back), Elisa Benzer (Front), DJ Gellatly. Photo Credit: Chelsey Fawcett

Foregoing an intermission, a fun musical interlude plays while the cast disassembles and arranges the set for the evening’s second play.

Wanda’s Visit tells the story of Jim (Gellatly) and Marsha (Tara Marlena Laberge), a married couple celebrating 13 years together. But when Jim’s old highschool girlfriend Wanda (Feigs) comes to visit, jealousy and temptation threaten to ruin Jim and Marsha’s marriage.

Compared to ‘dentity Crisis, Wanda’s Visit is much more grounded in reality which shows in Durang’s very funny, but also genuine marital dialogue between Jim and Marsha.

And the couple really stands out thanks to Laberge and Gellatly who are a great pairing.

Laberge is fantastic in delivering Marsha’s sharp remarks and pent up frustration which occasionally slips out over the course of the play. Gellatly is entertaining as the bumbling husband who tries to satisfy both his wife and this mad woman who wedges herself between them. And together, they share this relaxed chemistry that is simply a joy to watch.

Wanda, on the other hand, is an atrocious character whose despicable behavior as a guest grates on our nerves. And Durang leaves it that way until the very end where finally, something interesting happens. Until that point, the audience is stuck with a joke that stops being funny within the first 10 minutes.

Feigs does her best with the given material, but even her performance runs a bit stale.

How does !Duranged! stand as a whole package? Durang’s strange sense of humour may not be for everyone, but there is something about this selection of plays that is just fun. The whole evening is a lively theatrical experience fueled by slapstick and chaos. And yes, there are issues with both the plays and the production itself, but the evening has an indescribable charm to it.

Ultimately, Theatre’s BSMT !Duranged! is a curious evening of two plays that will certainly leave an impression on audiences.


*This review is based off a preview performance.

Theatre BSMT’s !Duranged! runs at the Motel Theatre inside the EPCOR Centre from Dec 10 – 20, 2014.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrebsmt.ca/Theatre_BSMT/Whats_On.html