New Works Festival is a yearly event at the University of Alberta Department of Drama, a showcase of new plays written by students in the department. Directors, cast, and crew for each play are also students and recent students. Each bill of three plays had four performances, and I managed to see both programs yesterday at on their closing day. I’m sure I saw complete credits for the festival on line somewhere, but I can’t find them now. Here is a webpage with some of the information about each play.
Among the six offerings were a fairytale (Princess and the Sandman, by Maggie Paul), a science-fiction tale (Silence and the Machine, by Liam Salmon), a loose dramatization of the Dixie Chicks song Goodbye Earl (Killing Earl, by Josh Languedoc), and three more realistic stories (Gianmarco Visconti’s Grey Matters, Jordan Sabo’s An Inside Sick, and Julian Stamer’s F***, Marry, Kill).
Silence and the Machine was a fascinating exploration of some implications of artificial intelligence. It reminded me of Bladerunner, which is one of my favourite movies ever, in the concepts of how to test the indistinguishable-from-human and in the starkly-lit simple setting of such a test. It alluded explicitly to Alan Turing’s imitation-game test and to the test-for-humanity in Shylock’s monologue “Do we not bleed?”, and used the classic riddle of the twins at the crossroads and the uncanny valley hypothesis as well as a Rubik’s cube as evaluations of reasoning. The script also said some important things about personal autonomy and ownership of one’s body, including when “carrying someone or something worth more”. Creepy and satisfying.
My favourite comic performances were by Bob Gaudet, the misanthropic bartender in F***, Marry, Kill, and by the pair of friends Lisa Dawn Daniels and Brianna Kolybaba in Killing Earl. The Princess and the Sandman had a framing technique which incorporated the audience as plot device and allowed some jokes about falling asleep while attending Hamlet. If I was giving prizes, there would also be some comedy honourable mention for the stage hands of Killing Earl (Kiana Woo and Chris Pereira).
in Grey Matters, Jarrett Hennig gave a credible and moving portrayal of an awkward teenager struggling with grief and lack of ambition, frustrated with being asked how he is but also resenting when other people avoid talking about his sister’s death. “It’s different with your grandparents,” his friend Lina (Maggie Salopek) offers, struggling to relate. A silent character witnesses every scene from the periphery (Ashleigh Hicks as Nada, who seems to be the spirit of the dead sister), but then slips away as Adam (Hennig) begins to find a new intimacy with his old friend Farren (Bill Wong). In An Inside Sick, Franco Correa is a younger teenager seeing a therapist (Afton Rentz) to deal with anger and family problems in a fairly straightforward narrative showing his interactions with equally frustrated and angry parents (Lauren Derman and Gabe Richardson). One scene stood out for me in that play, the one in which Correa’s character, about six years old, encounters his father contemplating a noose and a bottle of pills. The audience gasps and stills, and the child character asks innocent questions. “It’s for adults.” “Is it for exercising your neck?” “Yes, that’s it.” “Can I try it?” “No!”