The audience for Northern Light Theatre’s latest play Ride, by Jane Bodie, arrives in the black-box space of the Transalta Arts Barns’ PCL Studio Theatre and we take our seats, before studying the set. It looks like a large comfortable bedroom for a young adult, with a platform-futon, various shelves around the room with neat stacks of clothes and books, and then a couple of sets of last night’s clothes thrown around on top. After a few minutes of studying the set, we realise that there are actually people in the bed! They seem to be asleep under a comforter, and they seem to be naked.
The play opens with the two characters waking up and realising in shock that they aren’t alone – and that each has no memory of who the other character is and whether they had had sex. The actors are Cole Humeny, whom I last saw as the younger accused soldier in A Few Good Men at the Citadel, and Sereana Malani, whom I remember from last summer’s Fringe production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
The last time I saw a play with a similar premise, it was by Erika Ritter, who at the time was the host of a CBC Radio afternoon show. It may have been The Automatic Pilot, and I saw it a long time ago, when I thought that the characters who got drunk and picked up strangers in bars were at some kind of brittle cynical unhappy life-stage that I hadn’t gotten to yet. But in Ride, both characters seemed like likeable reasonable people with understandable motivations, not overly unhappy, and, well, young. (I’ll leave the exercise for the reader about what this says about my intervening life.) But I don’t mean that the characters were the same; they had different responses to the situation they were in and I definitely had a favourite.
One interesting feature of this production is that it is crammed full of references to local Edmonton landmarks relevant to the characters, including delightful and familiar snarky asides about various bars on Whyte Avenue and downtown. Application to the internet tells me that the playwright is Australian, so the local colour must have been added for this production. It really works, especially in the context of the two characters struggling to figure out whether their social circles interlock but agreeing about their impressions of, say, the LRT and Filthy McNasty’s.
When I mentioned to a friend last night that I’d just come from seeing Ride, he said “Oh, the naked play!” which I guess is the other notable feature of this story. Each character’s nudity is briefly visible to the audience as he or she gets out of bed to get dressed, but because they are making a point of not wanting the other character to ogle, it feels particularly inappropriate to do so as an audience member. So if you want to know where to sit in the theatre for the best views of the full-frontal, you can ask someone other than me.
One of the things I liked about this play was that it wasn’t too big a story. It probably wasn’t a life-changing moment for either character. Neither of them turned out to be horrifyingly messed up. There was some resolution to the plot, but not too much, and the resolution was completely consistent with the character-building. And the actors didn’t overplay it; they were credible and subtle and like people I’ve known and people I’ve been. Cole Humeny was particularly good at revealing some ordinary heartbreak in a quiet way that was completely consistent with his character. Sereana Malani’s character was funnier, and she played the mix of self-protectively sarcastic and vulnerable in a believable way.
Ride plays until February 9th and it runs just under an hour and a half. Tickets are available through Fringe Theatre Adventures – which means that you can buy tickets on-line for same day performances. Last night’s show was sold out, though, so you should buy yours ahead of time.