Presenting student productions for over 10 years, McGill Drama Festival continues the tradition with seven new plays this year. Set in Players’ Theatre, the Festival’s second week of plays runs from March 23 to the 27th. Each night offers a different collection of two to three short plays written, directed, and produced by McGill students – a perfect sample platter of McGill’s theatrical offerings. No two plays are alike, with topics ranging from marital troubles to a girl’s subconscious to mythological student societies. Below are some of the year’s festival participants.
Accompanied by Prolonged Feelings of DreadWritten by Todd Frei. Directed by Johanu Botha.Embracing all that is wacky, Accompanied by Prolonged Feelings of Dread assaults the audience with a whirlwind of crazy, leaving in its wake a dumbfounded feeling of “what?!” But this seems to be the point. The play’s slapstick portrayal of hypochondria – emerging both as hilarious and claustrophobic – causes us to spend half the time laughing and half wondering what’s going on.
The act takes place in the waiting room of Dr. Bill Norwell (Matt Stevens) which is ruled over by Miss Charon (Renee Hodgins), a stern and sinister secretary. Within the first few minutes it becomes apparent that something strange is in the works: the patients have been waiting for days, weeks, and, in some cases, months – but as time slugs by they never see anybody enter or exit Dr. Norwell’s office. Everything quickly dissolves into meaningless fury and we are forced to ask who, exactly, is ill?
All the actors are interesting to watch, but Hodgins plays her Miss Charon with an impressive integrity – aggressive note taking, hysterical pauses in phone calls, and methodical paper ripping contribute to her calm-before-the-storm/evil headmistress vibe. Shireen Shoofi and Brendan Steven play amusing patients in the waiting room – thanks to her timing and his energy, their enjoyable dynamic often steals the spotlight.
A possible point of frustration for some is Miss Persimmon. The character was a little offensive in her references to the physicality and speech caused by certain real and not-so-funny disabilities. The play lagged towards the end when the plot seemed to have exhausted itself, but the energy and persistence of the actors eventually regained the audience’s attention.
Truth be ToldWritten by Natalie Gershtein. Directed by Tabia Lau.
Truth be Told tells the familiar tale of an unhappy couple, in which a wife struggles to reconnect with her distant and adulterous husband. Though the story is not very inventive, the play’s honesty, rawness, and unexpected plot twist make it utterly captivating.
The plot follows Jimmy (Matthew Rian Steen), who has developed a tireless habit of sleeping with the secretaries at his law firm. He hires them, seduces them, and finally sends them away with a fat pay check to keep everything quiet. His wife Janine (Chloe Texier) desperately tries to save their drowning marriage, but despite her exhaustive efforts, every day seems to end with a cold and sad “goodnight.”
The set is effective and minimal, not taking attention away from the talented actors. The couple’s bed is positioned at centre stage, serving as a nice visual and thematic centrepiece – the place where many romances call home to the highest and lowest points of love.
Matthew Rian Steen perfectly conveys the arrogance needed from a slime-ball of Jimmy’s calibre – he is so convincing that we hate him up until curtain call. Chloe Texier’s performance was also admirable, though more subtle and understated than Steen’s; she effectively portrays the uncomfortable and pathetic position of a woman trying to pull together a hopeless marriage. In one scene, the couple has an explosive fight which sends energetic chills into the audience – it would have been great to see more arguments between the two, as they did it so well.
Truth be Told was a pleasure to watch – it is at times funny and at others sad. This is a MDF must see.
DentWritten by Daniel St. Germaine. Directed by Max Zidel.
Dent follows 18-year-old Davy White (Fabien Maltais-Bayda) as he recalls the untimely disappearance of Mrs. DiGiovanni, a woman in his hometown, a few years earlier. The play’s flashbacks reveal how the community was scandalized in response to newspaper headlines and neighbours’ gossip. Through the recollection of carefully selected memories from an impressionable time of his life, Davy pieces together a detailed look into the tragic disappearance of Mrs. DiGiovanni. The performers were wonderful, as both actors complemented each other in their dynamic relationship between mother and son. Giddings does a superb job playing up Davy’s gossip-hungry mother, in a hysterical rendition of a figure we’ve all encountered staring back at us from across the kitchen table. The set and lighting were carefully incorporated to add a bit more depth to this performance; with an eerily placed dentist chair, it didn’t take much to rekindle my childhood fears of unwelcome and rather intrusive prying and poking. The theme of the play may have skewed my perception towards one of discomfort, but I suppose a small town, big news and endless prattle have a tendency to overdo things. “Oh how rumours can be so vindicated!”
Crickets By the StreamWritten by Nathalie Selles. Directed by Isaac Robinson,
Crickets By The Stream begins when three separate parts of one girl’s subconscious join together in random thought. In her mind, there are scary things to be had, and too many snippets of lost wonder, joy, and pointless contemplation. I understand that shorter plays and narratives have difficulty maintaining plots in the same way lengthier pieces do, but this particular play didn’t even try to pull one off. There was no attempt to create coherence – it was destined to be a play with a mind of its own. The writing seemed at odds with all sorts of sensations, but as dissatisfying as the lack of plot was, the way it flowed was impeccable. Certainly, this feeling of continuity in a play full of interrupted ideas was in part due to the strength of the individual performances. If there was such a thing as the embodiment of one’s subconscious, all three actors nailed their role to a tee. Each portrayed a slightly different character angle that they accentuated by their delicate movements. Hannah Tharp’s choreographic work flitted across the stage as poetically as each spoken phrase and the overall mindset was one of bliss and magical entrancement. So empty your brain and let your thoughts wander freely – you’ll take more from this performance if you simply let your mind go.
Apollo TyrannusWritten by Julian Silverman, Directed by Isaac Robinson.
Apollo Tyrannus is a light-hearted comedy with lots of laughs. As president of The Student Society of Mythical Oracles, Apollo (Alex Gravenstein) is faced with solving the crisis concerning Oedipus and with the likelihood of self-fulfilling his own prophecy. Determined to show that the “gods” of governing student societies do not control the students’ fate, the play digresses through a series of comical conversations between three members of the society from rather different backgrounds. The witty mix of classic mythology and modern flavour had the audience captivated from the beginning. The charismatic crew of actors really work their magic in a wonderful complementation of each other’s intensity. Deverett has you on edge as he flies around the room in his agitated portrayal of Hermes, while Clohan balances the scene with Dionysus’ carefree party ways. The group’s cu
nning dynamics were irrefutable as each cast member charmed the audience into hysterics. I could have sworn I heard people in the audience join in at one point as the actors digressed into singing, “I got my swim trunks and my flippie-floppies.”
The schedule for the McGill Drama Festival can be found at ssmu.mcgill.ca/players. Tickets are $5 for students and $12 for a festival pass.