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

Red Fish

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rachel hastings, james mclean & taylor olson

Rachel Hastings and Taylor Olson’s Red Fish, which plays at Bethel Church as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, is a creative dramatization of what it can feel like for teenagers who are battling Depression in High School.

Red Fish is a strange character who carries a sack of dead fish with him and saddles up to teenagers encouraging them to second guess themselves, be antisocial in favour of Netflix, doubt their ability to achieve their goals and sabotages their relationships with others and with themselves. Played beautifully by James MacLean, Red Fish is both enticing and off-putting. He pretends to have the teenagers’ best intentions at heart, convincing them that he is saving them from failure and humiliation, but, like an addiction, he is difficult to shake. He latches on to misery and enjoys deflating hopes, joy and optimism.

The imagery here is vivid and manages to be an entirely unique perspective on how Depression manifests itself, while also tapping into experiences and feelings that are widespread and ardently familiar.

The workings of the play around Red Fish are the aspects of this play in progress that need the most tightening up. There are a lot of characters that Hastings and Olson play to create the World around their protagonists, Liz and Ethan, perhaps to closer mirror Hastings and Olson’s own life experience, that unnecessarily complicate the play. I would be interested to see if in focusing entirely on creating Liz and Ethan as two fully three-dimensional, unique teenage individuals, they would be able to give us all the context we need to understand why and how they are struggling just in their interactions with Red Fish and with one another.

The most challenging aspect of creating a play about Depression for younger audience, asking how to make it creative, engaging and with a metaphor that is strong and clear, is pretty close to perfect in this play. With a little shaping of the script, I think this play will be an engaging and exciting one to take on a tour to schools around Nova Scotia.

Red Fish plays at Bethel Church (5406 Roome Street) at the following times:

Thursday September 10- 6:30PM 

Saturday September 12- 3:00pm

Ginger Nation

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shawn hitchins photo by jen squires

Shawn Hitchins has a plan to populate the world with gingers, and in his hilarious one man show, Ginger Nation, which plays at the Bus Stop Theatre as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival he explains to us why.

Hitchins is a charismatic and entirely engaging storyteller, with good natured comic timing and he is equal parts hilarious and touching in his tale about becoming a zealous gay redheaded sperm donor. Hitchins dramatizes, with great physicality and a joyful sense of fun, his experience attempting to help his friends, a lesbian couple, conceive a cild, without sex or a clinic. There’s dancing to “My Sharona,” a nod to Liza Minnelli and a hilarious sad birthday clown schtick in a nightmare bathroom, but there is also honest reflection about what it means to give up your paternity and navigate this new life you helped create, but not as a father.

Hitchins’ play is a beautifully polished comedy of wit and silliness, but it’s also incredibly uplifting. In a world where the news is often about violence, it’s wonderful to remember that people also have the capacity to help each other bring children into the world, surrounded in love, optimism and laughter. 

Ginger Nation plays at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) at the following times: 

September 5 (7:20PM),
September 6 (2:30 & 8:15PM),
September 7 (9:45PM)
September 9 (5:15PM)
September 10 (5:05PM)
September 11 (5:25PM)
September 12 (6:00PM),
September 13 (1:55 & 9:00PM).

Heroic

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annie valentina & andrew kasprzak

Michael McPhee’s newest play Heroic, which plays at the Bus Stop Theatre as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, starts out with so much promise. We are introduced to Stargazer, played by a majestic-looking Annie Valentina, the strongest superhero in the World, and the Leader of the League of Guardians, an ass-kicking, crime-fighting gang of champions against evil. Yet, before we are able to see Stargazer’s power, intelligence, confidence and strength manifest itself she begins to spiral downward into self-doubt, she makes poor choices based on her rampant emotions, and crumbles under the mounting pressure of her status.

It seems as though McPhee is interested in humanizing these superheroes and exploring their flaws and how the paparazzi-style media attention and influence of social media and cyber bullying affect Superheroes, in the same way that they can wreak havoc on celebrity figures in our own world. The difficulty is that he saddles his protagonist, Stargazer, with so much baggage and psychological issues, that he robs her of the ability to exude the attributes that she needs in order to be a successful superhero. His other female character, Evergreen, is a safety liability who fangirls over everyone and treats saving the world like it’s really cool summer camp.  Conversely, even though Mindswipe is a misogynistic asshole and Zodiac is a paternalistic bastard, infuriatingly enough, their flaws don’t undermine their effectiveness as Heroes. They both infuse the League with a sense of confidence, strength, energy and common sense that one sees as being integral to the group being able to effectively combat super-villains. I doubt that the message of this play is supposed to be “Guys can get away with being douchebags and still be awesome at their jobs, but women just can’t handle the responsibility of taking on leadership roles,” but it’s difficult not to see that as Stargazer fails so spectacularly in doing the work she supposedly believes in because of some trolls on Twitter and her desire to return to her old life on the farm. McPhee attempts to give Evergreen the opportunity to become the League’s new star, but in the same way that he doesn’t show us Stargazer’s awesomeness and strength before her fall, he also doesn’t show us the evolution of Evergreen’s rise in status either. She also doesn’t ever win the respect or trust of her fellow teammates, which makes it difficult for the audience to see the ending as being anything but the dissolution of a functional, iconic league of heroes.

Annie Valentina is good at faltering and exuding anxiety as Stargazer and she has a sweet, flirtatiousness with Andrew Kasprzak’s Voidwalker, but she has a harder time commanding attention, taking status and exuding strength. Henricus Gielis as Mindswipe and David Rossetti as Zodiac bring beautiful energy and specificity and power and punch to their characters, which raise the stakes dramatically in the scenes they’re in. Overall, McPhee would benefit from harnessing more of that punch and infusing it into the show’s physicality and the arc of its stakes, and really working to allow Valentina to be the strongest, most compelling, most awesome and inspiring figure onstage, whether she is grappling with her own issues and being a complex human being or not. We want to see the Stargazer that Evergreen describes. She is who will capture our attention and our hearts. Gillian Clark has created a fun and fully realized character with Evergreen, but she often seems to be in the wrong play. She reminds me of a gender bent Joey from Friends, which is hilarious, yes, but I wouldn’t want Joey on my Superhero team.

Ultimately, Heroic is an ambitious undertaking for McPhee and the Doppler Effect, and as such, it lacks the polish of some of their other work. Yet, so much that is promising is here. How can you tell the story about superheroes while seeking to delve into their humanity without sabotaging what makes them super? How can you explore how gender intersects these ideas without being too didactic or falling into stereotypes? They are worthy questions. I hope McPhee keeps exploring them and keeps strengthening these characters and the world and the quandaries that he’s created for them. The theatre needs more three dimensional female superheroes for absolute sure.      

Heroic plays at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) (and as a Co-Production with The Bus Stop Co-Op) at the following times: 

Fri Sept 4th – 7:05PM
Sat Sept 5th – 3PM
Sun Sept 6th – 9:45PM
Mon Sept 7th – 1:30PM
Tues Sept 8th – 8:55PM
Wed Sept 9th – 10:10PM
Thurs Sept 10th – 8PM
Sat Sept 12th – 10:40PM
Sun Sept 13th – 3:20PM

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