Stewart Delo’s play Mushroom, which plays at the Pier 21 Museum Railside Theatre as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival has a strange mixture of elements for his audience to contend with.
There is definitely an interesting play in Mushroom somewhere or, at least the potential for one. It is clear that Delo is an articulate and intelligent writer whose philosophical diatribes sometimes border on the poetic. There is a terrific moment in the middle of the play when one character attacks another with a butter knife which is absurdly hilarious and filled with great physical comedy. The problem is that the genre of the play is in murky ground– somewhere between reality and anywhere even vaguely familiar– and since the audience isn’t clear where we are or where we are headed, it is hard to process the bold artistic choices that Delo has made.
The story seems to be a series of B-plots woven together by a seemingly innocuous event- a television that has been stolen. Along the way we are introduced to a fake murder plot, drug trafficking and a dead body in the trunk of a car on the way to a make-shift incinerator in the middle of the woods. Yet, confusingly, Delo introduces all these interesting potential plot points, but doesn’t really follow through with any of them or use them to give the arc of the story the high stakes it needs to propel itself forward. Instead, we are left with people on a park bench chatting about their ambivalence toward their music.
Delo also chooses to give all his characters extremely grandiose and verbose speech patterns, each one of them often segueing into musing about philosophy or metaphysics or other extremely intellectual and heady subjects. None of the characters speak the way that people talk in everyday life and this is certainly a discrepancy for his characters that are characterized as low lives and petty thieves. At times it seemed as though Delo were alluding to the fact that perhaps the play was set in another time or place or galaxy, where, presumably, all people speak this way. If so, that is a fascinating choice and I would like to delve more clearly into this world and to have its conventions presented to me so I can feel grounded in some degree of plausibility.
The play is filled with a cast of young actors, many of whom I hadn’t seen on stage before, and all of them give proficient performances. Ian Sinclair is especially charming, and reminiscent of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, as Raymond and Ashley Alberg has a strong and captivating stage presence as Catfish, so much so that I wished there was a more interesting storyline for her. Jamieson MacKinnon brings a subtle vulnerability to Otto, the street thug, which I also wanted to see explored more thoroughly.
In all, I think with some workshopping and dramaturgy Mushroom could become more certain of its world and its characters and find a story arc that builds momentum and holds its audience captive. Delo certainly has a mastery of words and a great butter knife conflict as a foundation upon which to build upon.
Mushroom plays at the Pier 21 Museum Railside Theatre (Downstairs) at the following times:
Sunday Sep 2 • 6:30-7:40pm
Sunday Sep 9 • 9:00-10:10pm
It costs $5.00. To book your tickets please visit this website or call (902) 999-7469 or visit the Box Office at the Seaport Farmers’ Market at Pavilion 20 on Marginal Road. Tickets are also available at the venue ONE hour before each show.