Aftershock

amy rutherford
Out of a society obsessed with creating perfection, or at least the illusion of it, where carefully constructed “reality” shows have transformed the ordinary citizens of America into Hollywood’s nouveau riche comes Evan Tsitsias’ new play Aftershock, which played as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival at the Factory Theatre Studio.
Aftershock tells the story of Anna, the recent recipient of an extreme makeover at the hands of a team of Los Angeles Executives, as she struggles to reintegrate herself back into her dysfunctional life, with her deranged working class family. Throughout this harrowing and emotional piece, Tsitsias explores the sudden disparity between the superficiality of Anna’s seemingly perfect appearance and the far more ugly and sinister feelings of self doubt, self loathing, despair and the scars from years worth of physical and emotional abuse, that new clothes and plastic surgeries have not resolved. Indeed, Anna is still very much broken and her helplessness has rendered her, reminiscent of Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, literally unable to move.
The fact that Anna is frozen is of little concern to her family members, as they bustle around, fawning over her for the first time, wanting to keep her like a china doll on a pedestal, as a beacon of light to aspire to be; proof that escape from their drudgery is possible. As Anna realizes the true depth of her pain and longs to connect once again to the true image of herself, refusing to deny her battle scars and seeking to renounce the media’s cliché of beauty and to embrace her own inner self, she begins to brutally destroy herself physically.
Rod Ceballos directs this play with electric intensity, highlighting nicely the black humour that encases Anna’s severe pain. With fight director Kara Wooten, the threat of violence is always imminent and Anna’s graphic attempts to injure herself are just gory enough to be disturbing, but not enough to seem alienating or absurd. Aftershock is one of those rare shows that combines an intelligent, dramatic examination of our society, genuine witty dialogue and gruesome moments, almost cinematic in their realism, that make the audience wince.
The cast of Aftershock is uniformly strong. Amy Rutherford gives an appropriately restrained performance as Anna, outwardly with her family members she behaves as one might imagine a Barbie Doll come to life, but Rutherford manages to make her character’s inner turmoil subtlety palpable throughout. Patrick Garrow is sleazy, manipulative and explosive as Gary, Anna’s husband, who, even in his most mundane actions, is always too loud and lacking all gentleness or grace. Allana Harkin is brilliantly pathetic as Anna’s sister Becky, a jealous woman who behaves like an overgrown eleven year old and has to wear a helmet to protect herself from panic attack-induced blackouts. Harkin is able to milk Becky’s absurdity for all her comic potential, while also eliciting empathy for her, as it is clear that she has been conditioned to believe that she is the family’s walking joke. The star of Aftershock is undeniably the powerhouse of comedy, Lynne Griffin, who plays Anna and Becky’s tawdry, caustic, merrily miserable mother, with distinct auras of Roseanne Conner. She may be the villain of this piece, but she is one that the audience derives much glee from hating.
Aftershock is a powerful piece of theatre. I think it could benefit from some further exploration, the concept of Anna being immobilized is not as clear or as powerful as it could be, and the relationship with her daughter Quinn, played earnestly by Catherine Rainville, deserves to be strengthened and enriched. In all, however, Aftershock raises some fascinating questions about the consequences of our society’s obsession with artifice, with the illusion of perfection and Tsitsias refuses to offer us a simplistic solution. Can self mutilation be empowering? Must our traditional conception of “beauty” be destroyed to reclaim a healthier or more genuine ideal? Are we the sum of what the world has done to us and, then, how do we escape when the abuse becomes too much? Aftershock seeks to cut to the bone and, stripping away all pretence, examines that which keeps, even the most broken among us, somehow moving forward.

Say Ginger Ale

Say Ginger Ale, a new play by Marcia Johnson that played at the Factory Theatre Studio as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, is an examination of the defining power of our homeland, and our ancestors, and how they can continue to shape us even after we have adjusted to a radically different life of our own choosing.
Nadia moved to Canada from Jamaica when she was six years old and she considers herself to be, for all intents and purposes, a well adjusted Canadian citizen; indentifying herself strongly not only with the geographical aspects of her home, but embracing its language, culture and heritage as well. Despite the fact that her mother, Daphne, continues to revisit their past, and Nadia’s grandmother who still lives in Jamaica, Nadia shows little interest in the country of her birth and relies on her grandmother’s annual visits to Canada as the foundation for their relationship. When a first date with a cute lawyer, Cornell, goes astray after he judges her on her lack of connection to her Jamaican roots, coupled with her grandmother becoming ill Nadia is forced to confront the past she has spent the last two decades escaping.
Johnson’s script is a sweet and sentimental one, with an ending so cute, it almost hurts, and a lot of the characters and their relationships with one another are well fleshed out. I think that there is a lot of potential for this script to be developed further and possibly to be pushed into more dramatic territory. For example, the stakes surrounding the grandmother’s illness don’t seem high enough to create the sustaining tension that I think this play needs and I think it could benefit from more definitive action happening while Nadia is in Jamaica. Something monumental should cause her to connect emotionally to this world with profound repercussions for the way she lives her life in Canada upon her return. There is also a somewhat problematic relationship between Nadia and Cornell, for, despite being portrayed by the effortlessly charming Andrew Moodie, Cornell is not a very likable character. He is arrogant and rude, judgemental and completely berates Nadia, who he barely knows, within moments of meeting her. It would be interesting to see further development of Cornell throughout this piece as well, because the way Johnson has structured the play, the audience is meant to root for their ultimate union, and in the present state, it is difficult to not want someone with more warmth and empathy for the charming, intelligent and caring Nadia. There are also some flat jokes and Canadian cultural clichés that could be weeded out.
The performances in this piece really do give the writing some of its much needed spark. Ordena gives a delightful performance as Nadia, Andrew Moodie makes Cornell as attractive as possible, and Raven Dauda steals the show with her hilariously fierce and beautifully compelling portrayal of Grandma. Dauda is pure comic gold in this show, in both her guttural, stubbornly dismissive vocal intonations and her incredibly expressive face.
Say Ginger Ale has a great deal of heart, and I think with a little bit of dramatic edge, Johnson could make it a play that really pops.

Shed

shed
Shed, a play written by Leah Jane Esau, which plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, is based on a true story about a group of young bullies who locked another child in a shed and set fire to it.
I saw a reading from an excerpt of this play over a year ago as part of a series at the Graduate Centre for Drama at the University of Toronto, and I was immediately compelled by this dark, sordid, sexually charged scene of manipulation and intense power struggle between a police officer and a sixteen year old girl. This remains the strongest scene in Shed and I found that I wanted the rest of the play to have the same sinister momentum of desperate high stakes, where both the characters had everything to lose and both were at the mercy of the other in a twisted tangle of tainted innocence.
Erin, the sixteen year old girl who has been abandoned by the world lives with her boyfriend, an unseen figure, who is supposedly tough and terrifying. He allows thirteen year old Mitch, also discarded by the world, to live with them. I thought that Mitch and Erin’s relationship was interesting, but I wanted it to be pushed to an even further extreme, especially because the force dominating them both was unseen, I wanted there to be a firmer sense of hierarchy, manipulation, jealousy, sexual tension, desperation, love, loathing- a complex myriad of need between these two teenagers. Mitch, the lowest on the totem pole at home, in a nice reversal, becomes the bully to Jeremy, a sweet, if clueless, thirteen year old boy with a limp and a paper route, who become the victim of the fire in the shed.
There are a lot of great characterizations in this play and it was a bold choice to cast two real teenagers, Jovan Kocic and Simon Derome to play Mitch and Jeremy respectively. They brought a certain gentleness to the characters that I think older actors may have steamrolled over, but this hesitance, as though they were searching for approval and carefully considering their actions, was very reminiscent of the way thirteen year old boys behave, especially when they are the youngest within a gang of teenagers. Kocic is very effective at completely losing his composure at the end of the play in a very raw, child like manner and Krystina Bojanowski is menacing and nonsensically erratic as Erin, which makes her simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous.
The direction by Justin Madol didn’t have the decisive, emotionally charged violence that I think this play needed to really sucker punch its audience. The fight scene was sloppy and the intensity between the characters was not intense enough for me to believe that these kids were capable of killing one another. Ultimately, I think Shed can be grittier, it can push the boundaries more and delve deeper into the sordid, twisted lives of these forgotten children. I wanted to be horrified. I wanted to be outraged and disgusted, but in the end I was only surprised by how empty I felt of feeling or care. There is a gripping, compelling, emotionally devastating play in these characters and in this story for sure; and I think with a bit of revising, Leah Jane Esau will be able to bring it out to dramatic results.
Shed plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
August 13th at 5:00pm
August 14th at 10:00pm

The Innocents

noah reid and antonio cayonne
Sometimes, especially at independent theatre festivals such as Summerworks and Fringe, I can tell that a play is going to be extraordinarily polished and riveting almost before the opening lines are spoken. That was the case for me at The Innocents, a new play written and directed by Daniel Karasik which plays at the Factory Mainspace as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival. This is one play that I think could soon make a smooth transition into a future season at either Factory Theatre or Tarragon.
The three magic elements, the writing, the acting and the direction, are all in perfect balance in The Innocents and each component of the play compliments the whole with perfect synchronicity. Aaron, a young lost soul, has just confessed to the murder of an elderly lady. His lawyer, Stanley, is barely older than he is and knows that Aaron is innocent, yet, he is fascinated by the fact that Aaron would consider jail a favourable option to the realities that confront him in the outside world. As he delves deeper into Aaron’s world, in talking with his friend, Jude, and his ex girlfriend, Jackie, Stanley becomes more fixated on their perceived “normalcy” and, despite his success, his intellect and his education, Aaron, Jude and Jackie’s youthful experiences of relationships, lazy freedom, fun and ecstasy make him feel intensely inadequate.
The issues that the young characters are grappling with throughout Karasik’s play are ones that are rarely explored in art and I found myself not only incredibly captivated by their shrewd perceptions of the inferiority and self consciousness tug of war that each of the characters are engaged in, I was also moved by the complex emotions and vulnerability that I think really captures, in a very intelligent way, how many people in their early twenties interact with one another and experience the world. Karasik’s dialogue and the pacing of the play is also as crisp, immediate and expeditious as a Brad Fraser play, with the action sweeping you up and driving you toward the end without pause or hesitation.
The acting in this play is uniformly terrific. Antonio Cayonne plays Jude, Aaron’s daydreamer friend, who is constantly manoeuvring how to get rich quick in a myriad of creative ways so that he doesn’t have to become some corporate drone or menial labourer. Cayonne infuses Jude with pure jovial faith in his own potential and a serene contentment and charisma that lures the other characters to him. Amelia Sargisson plays Jackie, a sweet girl who seems as lost as Jude is grounded. Sargisson is really fantastic at showing how Jackie draws inspiration and strength, like a sponge, from everyone else around her. Esther Maloney plays Laura, a young journalist who becomes involved with Aaron and reveals that, like Stanley, she is insecure about her own lack of worldly experience. Maloney gives her a wonderful balance of confidence, power and also vulnerability and tenderness. Philip Furgiuele is brilliant as Stanley, who is formidable and admirable in the courtroom, but socially awkward to the point of complete disaster outside of his lawyer facade. Furgiuele captures both Stanley’s endearing confusion about the conventions of interpersonal relationships and his haughty, stubborn coldness very effectively. Noah Reid gives a fascinating and gripping performance as Aaron, a desperate and angry young man with a complex, disheartened opinion of his own potential. Reid really inhabits this character, every line and each arc of emotion seems to genuinely rise from a real place deep in the self conscious spinning of Aaron’s brain or the tender beauty of his heart.
The Innocents is a refreshing portrait of the world of the early twenties told devoid of clichés of vapid bitchiness and drug-induced inanity. It is a story that I think I had been unconsciously waiting to hear for a long time, one that reflects the reality that I know and experience and I think that it does it beautiful, poetic and intelligent justice.

The Innocents plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
 
August 12th 10:00 PM
August 13th 11:59 PM- Midnight Performance
August 14th 7:30 PM

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