The 13th annual U of T Drama Festival took place last week at Hart House Theatre. While adjudicator Shari Hollett offered up her critical feedback and bestowed awards on the one-act plays participating in the four-day event, The Varsity’s reviewers had their own take on what they saw onstage during the first two nights (reviews of Friday and Saturday’s plays and a roundup of award winners will appear in next Monday’s Varsity.

WEDNESDAY, January 19
In the Skin of Sleep
Erindale Drama Club
Rating: V

Must the U of T Drama Festival always kick off with a pretentious piece of mind-numbing crap? Last year, the overwrought drivel came from St. Mike’s seemingly never-ending The Contemptation, an hour-long play that was, despite many attempts at being deep and symbolic, laughably plotless; this year, the usually reliable Erindale Drama Club opened the festival with In the Skin of Sleep, a play by Ana Candia that purported to explore the fine line between dreams and reality.

Hattie (Sandra Klincov) spends much of her stage time drifting in and out of lucid dreams. Is she really dreaming? Is she awake? Both her boyfriend, Rich (Daniel Bowers) and the audience are meant to be kept wondering, but between painfully forced performances and a script that comes off as a lot of post-Freudian mumbo-jumbo-Freud himself even appears as a character in the piece, played by Kevin Dowse-the only real examination of sleep I considered while watching the play was whether or not to doze off and wake up when the next piece began.-YS

Blue Chalk Angel
Hart House Drama Society
Rating: VVVv

Sticking a little closer to home, Blue Chalk Angel is the story of four university-aged pals who’ve been friends for so long that their lives have become inextricably intertwined. In a twist worthy of a WB television show, their lives change on the way home from Friday kung-fu movie night when Drew (André Gordon) decides to come out of the closet. While Caileigh (Kara Dymond, also the writer of the piece), the only female in the quartet, quickly realizes that sexual orientation can’t change a lifelong friendship, quiet Seb (Fraser Elsdon) and tough-talking Aidan (Darcy Rona) are more than a little wary.

Repeated encounters with a sidewalk chalk drawing of a blue angel guide the four friends through their own inner dialogues as they grapple with their feelings on homophobia, spirituality, and the true meaning of friendship. While often overly-earnest and slightly over-reliant on overlapping monologues that sound like something out of My So-Called Life, the performers handle the material delicately under the solid direction of Jesse S. Calvert and, like an etching done in chalk, achieve a few moments of honest beauty.-YS

The Cruelty of Women
St. Michael’s College Drama Society
Rating: VVV

The Cruelty of Women is very much like its ritzy Yorkville salon setting-over-the-top, ridiculously high-maintenance, and, occasionally, a secretly guilty pleasure. On indefinite hiatus from her university literature studies in order to keep up her late mother’s beauty salon, Natalie (Jennifer McCarthy) lives at the beck and call of ladies who lunch-including wealthy ice queen Evelyn Cartwright (Sarah Warren) and her best friend, Katherine Princeton (Joey Martinovic).

The play is a piece of fluff, and for the most part, the performances reflect this. Sporting outrageous clothing and equally outrageous accents, Warren and Martinovic command the stage with their gossipy banter through the first half of the piece. However, this is an idea that would have worked much better as a 15-minute sketch-the gossip soon grows old and the accents grating; the revelation at the play’s climax seems anticlimactic.

The numerous props that litter the stage area make the staging messy and often seem unnecessary. In the end, though, The Cruelty of Women keeps the audience laughing-which is more than most student drama can manage.-YS

THURSDAY, January 20

A Way Without Leave
Victoria College Drama Society
Rating: VVV

Who would have thought that a postwar homecoming story circa 1945 could be so hysterically absurd and unconventional? Perhaps only in the mind of promising writer/actor Dave Read could such a bizarre scenario develop.

Picture the hero Harry (played brilliantly by Read) coming home to his wife Mary only to discover that she has sold the children to finance an erotic obsession with oak floors. Now reverse this shocking revelation and imagine that Harry has not been to war at all but has secretly been living all along with next-door neighbour Jane. Turn the situation around again and learn that Bill, Jane’s husband, has not been to war either, but has been shacking up with Mary. That should give you some idea of the confusion that arises when the truth comes out in A Way Without Leave.

All four actors had an excellent command of the stage and managed to use the simple but practical set to its full advantage. The melodramatic style and cheery optimism worked well to emphasize some of the drama’s darker themes (such as, what is the point of war?) while giving us a good laugh in the process.-LG

Parental Advisory
UTSC Drama Society
Rating: V

The only thing worse than watching an exaggerated after-school-special type depiction of teenagers experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol on television (think Degrassi the old and new generations), is sitting through an awkward live performance of embarassingly lower quality. Parental Advisory should have come with another warning: “unconvincing characters + lecture in morality + transparent religious undertone = an insult to your intelligence.”

The only thing about this trivial representation of modern-day youth that seemed even remotely real was the “joint,” which when lit on stage, gave off a curiously authentic aroma. The action of Ballantine’s one-act drama was meant to unfold in the midst of a raging house party, yet the poorly-timed use of background music, empty set, lack of clear stage distinction, and want of emotional commitment from the actors, made for an unbelievably dull gathering.

The climax had the accused “slut” Kelly nearly sexually assaulted by Rick, her friend Elizabeth’s love interest, then a few minutes later Rick found himself sleeping with Elizabeth’s 15-year-old little sister on the porch! To top it all off, after everyone left the disastrous party, Elizabeth, the virginal voice of reason, undressed while giving a monologue about how kids might not be so messed up if they put prayer back in schools. Please.-LG

Lovely Day
UTSC Drama Society
Rating: VV

Unfortunately, not everything that begins well ends well. Sadly, zombie thriller Lovely Day proved itself a case in point. The play opened comically, as a cellphone-babbling, obnoxious club girl shoved her way through the startled audience. Once on stage, the booty-shaking hoochie-mama was dragged off by a ravenous brain-eating zombie, paving the way for a company of boisterous zombie dancers.

The year, we are told, is 2025, society has been torn apart by war, and the undead now outnumber the living. Two survivors, Yosef and Miraj (each formerly members of opposing sides and therefore enemies), are forced to live together in a small room while awaiting their certain death.

This could have been the basis for a really interesting performance, had the lead living characters not seemed more dead than the zombies. Clumsy, slow-paced dialogue and a wavering sense of urgency made for a lengthy production that appeared to lose momentum just when it was needed most. Memorable dream sequences in which the zombies advertised an intriguing product called “Zombitrol” (the undead version of Prozac) broke up the monotony of an otherwise tedious plot. Except for the great makeup, costumes and set design, this play would have been better titled Yawn of the Dead.-LG