Meeting up with an actor friend and going to an evening of short theatre at the Walterdale Playhouse on a warm spring evening reminded me of the Fringe festival. Except for a few details like the parking lot being nearly empty, and there being no food vendors or crowds or street performers. Oh, and in August I love the air conditioning in the Walterdale, but in May I ended up a bit underdressed, just too involved in the story in front of me to fish out my jacket from under my seat.
From Cradle to Stage is a festival of new short plays, a tradition at the Walterdale. Playwrights make submissions earlier in the season, and the winners then work with dramaturges (is that the plural?) to develop the scripts for production in May. This year’s event had two plays, “The Ugly Spot” by Lisa Lorentz-Gilroy and “Exposure” by Stephen Allred, Bethany Hughes, and Jessie McPhee.
“The Ugly Spot” showed a brief encounter between two young strangers who had both come to the same isolated place (the Ugly Spot of the title) for solitude. As you might expect, they are both indignant and defensive about having to share the bit of public land that they’d thought of as private. But because this is a play rather than real life, they don’t both get up and leave; they stay and communicate enough that we find out interesting things about both of them. Chance Heck and Cayley McConaghy both portray unhappy lonely twitchy young people. There was one apparent inconsistency in the related backstory that distracted me disproportionately, but I won’t write it here since it might not bother you the same way. On the other hand, the ending was done in a more subtle way than I had expected, leaving some things for the audience to know and a character left not knowing. I thought that was the strongest thing about the writing.
“Exposure” was a more complex portrayal, as you would expect from the longer running time (55 minutes vs 25 minutes). There was some similarity in plot device with “The Ugly Spot”. One or two of the people tweeting about the shows thought this juxtaposition was effective; I thought it was unfortunate. It made the second one easier to guess and it stretched my tolerance for coincidence a bit past credulity. The premise of this show was three different characters, each struggling with a debilitating fear, encountering each other in an inpatient treatment program and moving towards healing in their interactions with each other. There were no counsellors or other staff members of the facility shown on stage, although there were a couple of voiceover announcements and the characters referred to their assignments and therapy-group exercises. As the program blurb said, “sometimes it’s the people you meet there, not the program, that allows you to move forward”. I might quibble with the grammar, but the story was effective in demonstrating how troubled people who are motivated to change can help each other.
Early on, the characters are not yet interacting with each other – we learn about their thoughts through alternating monologues with each sitting on a straight chair facing forwards. Each of the three characters has a different set of body language for portraying his or her state of fear and avoidance – Eric (Morgan D. D. Refshauge)’s twitchiness, Anna (Sarah Culkin)’s continual chatter, and most compellingly Will (Sam Banagan)’s demeanour of completely avoiding eye contact with anyone while actually sitting front and centre facing the audience. As the story progresses and the characters begin to reach out to each other, we see each of them begin to drop these mechanisms, relaxing a bit and then retreating a bit when challenged. Eric seemed to recover a bit too easily for me to believe, but I found all of them likeable intelligent people and I wanted them to succeed. There were glimpses of affectionate humour all through what was in some ways a disturbing story. As a long-time digital immigrant, I was pleased to see Internet-friendship not being portrayed as pathological in itself, although it had been part of at least one character’s coping tools.
The plays run every night until Saturday, with tickets at Tix on the Square or at the door. And I’d love to know what you thought of them too.