A Tension to Detail

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gerard harris

Often, I think people mistake going to the theatre as being an entirely passive experience. It is, after all, not the art of running or the art of doing, it is the art of seeing. A show like Gerard Harris’ A Tension to Detail, which plays at the Museum of Natural History, as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, is an ardent reminder that being an active audience member watching great theatre can be an exhilarating experience. Hold onto your hats and buckle your seat belts.

Harris is rapid, catapulting energy, reminiscent of someone like Robin Williams or Robert Munsch, who jam packs his stories with comedy and charm and builds and builds and builds toward a heart-racing, beat the clock, storytelling sprint. The show is very personal, it’s captivating and insightful and often hilariously funny. It sometimes wanders into dark territory, but Harris creates a safe space that makes those moments okay. Ultimately, A Tension to Detail is also a sort of love letter to storytelling, an exploration of the form of the idea of one person connecting to an audience in a way that is very old, but entirely immediate.   

A Tension to Detail plays at the Museum of Natural History (1747 Summer Street) at the following times: 

Monday September 7th – 7:00PM
Tuesday September 8th – 9:40PM
Wednesday September 9th – 7:55PM
Thursday September 10th – 8:10PM
Friday September 11th – 6:30PM

Saturday September 12th – 4:35PM

Sunday September 13th- 4:25PM

Help, I’m Having a Quarter Life Crisis

help

It seems like Danielle Doiron is trying to write a satirical play about the expectations of naive wannabe “actresses” versus the cutting reality of show business in Help, I’m Having a Quarter Life Crisis, but the challenge for the audience is that her character, Emma-Claire is so endearingly pitiable we end up feeling too bad to laugh at her.

This is not a disaster; however, because there are the makings of a compelling play here and it begins right at the end of the piece. For the entire play Emma-Claire is characterized as being a miserable, untalented, stubborn and entirely clueless girl determined to become a famous actress. Yet, at the very end it is revealed that she is actually a gorgeous singer, which changes the audience’s entire perspective of her and on the play. Doiron needs to be clearer whether she wants her play to be a critique on the stereotypical perils of being overly cocky and underprepared for a life in the theatre or whether she would like to tell the story of one individual girl’s journey that is heartrending and sweet and rooted in realism. I think either choice will work for Doiron but she needs to make her choices more boldly and definitively.

I also think Doiron would benefit from taking a close look at the dramaturgical construction of dialogue in one person plays to make sure that all her scenes further the plot and don’t drag down the momentum of the monologues. There is more room for these scenes to be streamlined and condensed, which will cut down on the continual circular motion of the play and allow this to be more gradual and sparse, which will have a stronger impact. I liked the through line concerning the fish; it was poetic, unexpected, funny and gave Emma-Claire a distinctive personality trait.

I think the audience is far closer to empathizing with poor Emma-Claire than laughing at her. Doiron as a performer wears her heart on her sleeve and we want to be able to connect with her. I’d like to see the play where this is encouraged more obviously.

TWISI Rating:  2-and-a-half-stars

Help, I’m Having a Quarter Life Crisis played at the Museum of Natural History as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and has closed. 

It Trickles Down

trickles

It Trickles Down, a new play by David Etherington and Jake Martin, which previously played the Fundy Fringe Festival in St. John and St. Thomas University in Fredericton, shines the light on two of an unnamed city’s mayor’s bureaucratic pundits whose addiction to research surveys, elaborate planning strategies and evasion of responsibility results in their ignoring a very immediate problem: the city is rapidly sinking into the sewers.

There are some great satirical moments in It Trickles Down that highlight the absurdity of bureaucracy in government and how it can often lead to gross mismanagement of a city’s political concerns instead of providing efficiency or better insight into what benefits the city’s residents. Martin and Etherington have sharp comic timing and great chemistry with one another as Gerard and Rick, two chronically lazy civil servants. Yet, I found that I was less interested in them as protagonists than I was in the mysterious protestors gathering at the Heritage Fairground, figures suggestive of the members of Occupy Movements, but who looked more like a sinister Clopin from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I would be interested in seeing a play that shifts more focus toward these figures and features Gerard and Rick as the two Absurdist, hilarious, clueless villains.

In all, I found It Trickles Down to be a memorable evening at the Atlantic Fringe Festival, with lots of darkly funny and insightful commentary on politics in the postmodern world. I hope Etherington and Martin keep working on this piece because it has a lot of fascinating potential for a longer piece.

TWISI Rating:

3 of 5 starsIt Trickles Down played at the Museum of Natural History as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and has closed. 

the sh*t show: Misconceptions and Nuggets of Truth Deep Within

josh dunn

josh dunn

Josh Dunn’s The Sh*t Show: Misconceptions and Nuggets of Truth Deep Within seems like more of a personal rant than a dramatic one person theatre piece, but it certainly highlights some interesting questions concerning society’s treatment of people who are differently-abled. It also unleashed a torrent of issues for me concerning political correctness and human kindness and “othering” and the essence of theatricality.

First of all, if someone sits onstage and speaks to an audience- is it inherently theatre? Should I regard Dunn as a character speaking to me as distinct from Dunn himself, even though I am fairly certain that he was not “performing” this piece in that sense of the word? Yet, he is still a performing object, which makes him disparate from the person he is when he is not on the stage. So, if I say that the character who is presented to us in The Sh*t Show is difficult to like and to have empathy for and comes across as being entitled and arrogant, can this criticism be divorced from seeming like a personal attack on Dunn the person, who I have never met and have no basis upon which to judge? This is my conundrum.

Since The Sh*t Show has been presented to me as a work of theatre and Dunn as a performing object, I have chosen to write about him as the protagonist in the story that he is presenting to me. This is, of course, the way I always review one person shows- the actor always transforms themselves into a theatrical entity just by being present on the stage in front of an audience. Why do I feel like I need to justify myself or explain myself in the case of Dunn? Good question.

As the protagonist to this story Dunn is telling onstage, this character presents himself as a complex enigma. He is passionate in his desire not to be defined by his cerebral palsy- yet he doesn’t think he should have to work because he is an “artist.” He blames his inability to be a successful stand up comedian on the public’s perception of his disability, without taking into consideration his own talent or skill level as a comic or the dozens of other obstacles comedians of all kinds encounter in the business every day. He makes a compelling case for the need to normalize and integrate those with disabilities more fully into our society and speaks about how ostracized many with disabilities feel, especially in their desire to fulfill their sexual needs. Yet, it is difficult to know whether this protagonist encounters rejection from women because he has cerebral palsy or because he comes across as bitter, arrogant and misogynistic.

Yet, what makes this piece even more interesting is that this character we have encountered is entirely human. He is flawed and, of course, has all the same rights to behave in this way as someone who doesn’t have cerebral palsy. Does this make him an unfit “representation” for his cause? Should he be seen as having to be a “representation” of his “cause”? Doesn’t my need to find a way to say how I feel about this “play” while being politically correct showcase that my instinct is to treat Josh Dunn differently than I would treat someone else who sat onstage and ranted at me arrogantly in a way that was almost completely devoid of theatricality and narrative? Exactly. Perhaps this is the point.

I found The Sh*t Show difficult to sit through in parts, it pushed my buttons, it didn’t challenge me to examine my preconceived notions necessarily, certainly not in the way one would expect, but instead it forced me to delve far beyond binaries and to enter a muddy ground that made me feel like a bit of an asshole, but not for the reasons I was expecting. This piece and Josh Dunn in it would make the beginnings of a really great Bouffon character. I am not sure if that was what Dunn had in mind when he conceived this performance, but if his intention was to alienate his audience into challenging him, he certainly succeeded.

TWISI Rating:             2 of 5

the sh*t show: Misconceptions and Nuggets of Truth Deep Within played at the Museum of Natural History as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and has closed. 

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