Every year, a series of student-written, one-act plays compete for five coveted awards on the stage of Hart House Theatre. Here, we sound off on the best and the worst of the four-day festival.
Earth: A Survivor’s Guide to All Things Agricultural
The cast of New Faces’ Earth: A Survivor’s Guide to All Things Agricultural had the weight of the festival’s opening spot on their shoulders. Luckily, a cast’s job is always much easier when they’re working with a script as brilliant as that of student playwright Christian Glas. Living in a post-apocalyptic world, Glas’ protagonists are a pair of sibling farmers who have taken on the task of re-colonizing a desolate land. The plot poses gripping questions about relationships and self-reliance, and the dialogue is rife with insightful details that are just begging to be contemplated and discussed. But although Élyse Roy and Alex Howard’s portrayals of Alice and Alphonse were worthy of applause it seemed to me that Glas’ writing hadn’t truly been done justice. Alice’s costume was too crisp and white for the play’s gritty setting, and Alphonse’s character was too even-tempered for someone who eventually snaps in such a truly horrible way. This production simply was too clean for the frightening message it was trying to preach: if you want to be safe, keep watch on the horizon, but if you want to stay human, keep watch on yourself.
— Victoria Beales
It’s a pretty exciting thing when an audience is treated to a dynamic combination of writer, director, and acting ensemble, such as the one that UTM Drama Club provided in its festival entry. Bruised Porcelain seemed like the perfect collaboration of visions, beginning with Kaitlyn Alexander’s well-written script, developing further under Eilish Waller’s direction, and finally coming to life during the excellent performances of a vibrant cast. The play’s protagonist, Macy (played and narrated in tandem by the equally enchanting Rachelle Goebel and Colette Fitzgerald), is in the midst of an exhausting leukemia relapse. Pushed to the edge by what appears to be a futile battle against cancer, she is finally ready to give up. I’ll confess that the play brought me to tears, and yet, somehow, Bruised Porcelain manages to balance its tragic subject matter with uplifting stories about friendship, family, and love. Thanks to the wit of Macy’s best friend Ellie (Brittany Miranda), the heartfelt declarations of her devoted girlfriend, Erica (Chelsea Riesz), and the turbulent emotions of Macy’s mother (developed with great tact by Hannah Ehman), Bruised Porcelain was definitely made its mark.
It Could Be Worse
Writer-director Adriano Marchese sure knows how to make us laugh: St. Michael’s Arts Commission’s festival entry kept the chuckles coming from the start. It Could Be Worse invited us into conversation with Marchese’s lead character, a frantic hypochondriac convinced his end is coming all too soon. Steven Lyons played the awkwardly endearing Oscar perfectly, as if the role had been written for him. Jessica Tomlinson played Lucy, Oscar’s pragmatic and under-appreciated friend, with enough sensibility to counteract Oscar’s absurdity. As Oscar jumped from one quirky episode to the next in his search for salvation, he made the audience feel as if they were good friends who were being dragged along for the ride. In fact, when the play came to a happy but abrupt ending, it was hard not to feel like we’d been unfairly cut off. It Could Be Worse wrapped up too quickly and simply, especially in comparison to the show’s meandering plot. The play’s own title sums the show up nicely: it could have been worse… but, then again, it could have been better.
The DL-15 Incident
The first of the three plays to be presented on the second night of the U of T Drama Festival was the St. Michael’s Arts Commission’s production of The DL-15 Incident, written by Vere Marie Khan and directed by Joseph Ianni and Victoria McEwan. The story unfolds through the perspective of the main character Emile Para (Arnold Lan), who is interrogated about the deaths of his friend, Lana (Madiha Choksi), and their sociology professor, Mr. Jacobs (Sandro Pehar). The pace of The DL-15 Incident was exciting, but its plot proved to be quite predictable. Ultimately, the play’s climatic moments lacked suspense, and clichéd depictions of the characters’ heartbreak were unintentionally quite humorous. The DL-15 Incident had the potential to be a telling exploration of toxic love, but with its flimsy development of plot and character, the play falls decidedly short.
— Leelan Farhan
Marianne, Are You Asleep?
utm’s second contribution to the U of T Drama Festival was Marianne, Are You Sleep?, written by Nicholas Potter and directed by Jaime Hernandez Lujan. This clever and insightful play is ostensibly about a married couple that is desperate to find out why their son has visions of his dead grandmother. Yet at the heart of Marianne, Are You Asleep? is a poignant exploration of family dynamics. Though the interactions between Marianne (Karyn McGibbon) and her husband Devon (Ben Hayward) are often comical, as the layers of the couple’s cheery facade are peeled away, it is clear that their relationship is eroding due to a lack of communication. The play also explores the toxicity of family secrets as both the audience and Marianne herself come to know the truth about her childhood. All in all, Marianne, Are You Sleep? is cleverly written, brilliantly directed, and presented by a cast that could very well be mistaken for a professional troupe of actors.
In This Life
In This Life by the Hart House Players, opened the third night of The U of T Drama Festival. The play is set in a psychiatrist`s office, where 21 year-old hustler Griff has his first therapy session after contracting HIV. Unfortunately, within the first few minutes the protagonist’s ailment is made clear and the plot transforms into a series of tired scenes that can be easily synopsized: boy is reluctant to discuss his disease; boy cathartically admits his emotional state; boy resolves to tell others about his diagnosis. Despite this unoriginal treatment of the subject, the performance had its comedic moments and Kowlyn McKinstry`s acting kept the audience engaged. The play offered a unique touch by projecting video footage of Griff’s memories of life before his diagnosis onto the back wall of the stage. But, while the footage functioned as an interesting symbol of the nebulous inconstancy of memory, the blurred visuals ultimately proved distracting. Perhaps if the plot had the same innovative character as the staging, In This Life would have been as memorable to watch as it was pleasant.
— Salena Barry
Shazam! OR SCHISM ON, ETERNITY
Pope jokes, geometry, lemon meringue pie, and 1950s espionage are the scattered foundation of the complex yet witty Shazam!, presented by the Victoria College Drama Society. When a mathematician’s business dinner suddenly goes awry after one of the guests spits out his host’s famous pie, sides are taken and a war is waged. Chock-full of intertwined sub-plots, forceful dialogue, and nuanced ideas, Shazam! can be a little hard to follow for those of us who aren’t well-versed in the complex politics of post-WWII America. Yet the bravado of the actors and sharp technical components make the play interesting to watch, even when the plot becomes convoluted. Although it was not the best act of the festival’s closing night, Shazam!’s wit and satirical style kept the audience chuckling until the very end.
The Gully by utm’s Drama Club is reminiscent of an M. Night Shyamalan film. The story follows a young uneducated girl named Penny in 1970s rural Mississippi, and her unlikely friendship with an old man she meets by a gully near her home. The minimalist set made viewers feel as if they were a part of the relationship between Penny and her aging friend, while a haunting journey and unexpected ending left the audience completely stunned. Whispers of “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” or “Oh my god, what the hell just happened?!” (as one girl behind me put it) were only a few of the shocked reactions upon the play’s conclusion. Rich, haunting and an overall stunning piece of drama, The Gully was by far the best show of the night.