After an early performance of Sonder at King Edward School, I saw four more shows yesterday, all of them with a focus on story.
Little Monsters, written and directed by Kristen Finlay at the Walterdale Theatre, is the subtle and familiar story of a mother who is determined to do the best for her child, and how that understandable conviction can lead to some imbalance and unhappiness. It wasn’t quite the story that I was expecting and I liked it better for that. Erin Foster-O’Riordan was very believable as the earnest mother, not overplaying or ridiculous. Cory Christensen and Julie Sinclair as her husband and her best friend had smaller parts in the story, but each brought his or her own issues to the encounters, as we saw gradually. Anne-Marie Szucs played the uncompromising preschool director with intimidatingly still body language. The Fringe-style simple set and lighting cues created an office, a living space at home, a parent-viewing room at the preschool, and a park bench. I loved the line about the expectant mother only feeling perfect until other people knew her secret and started giving her advice.
The one thing I didn’t enjoy about the experience of watching this play had nothing to do with what was unfolding on stage. In choosing a seat near the action, I had unwittingly chosen one that squeaked with every small shift in movement, so my seat kept making noise and nearby patrons kept looking at me. I wish someone would either fix that seat or discourage people from sitting in it.
Sundogs, by Michaela Jeffery, directed by Louise Large, is playing in the small proscenium space of the Telus Building. Holly Cinnamon was compelling as a slightly-out-of-control woman living alone on a farm, first encountered wearing a white cotton nightgown and rubber boots. Police officer Mike (Evan Hall, also in Letters to Laura) and book acquisitions editor Dan (Brendan Thompson, also in Kurt Man buyer and seller of souls) each visit her to discuss some disturbing events that happened recently, and as their visits occur we find out more about her life. Something about the sequence of the various scenes did not fall into place for me until later in the story. I can never decide whether that pleases me as the narrative catches me by surprise and suddenly makes a different kind of sense, or whether I feel foolish for not catching on earlier. This play had the most convincing and horrifying example of the consequences of living surrounded by clutter and hoarded possessions that I have ever heard or read, and it made me think anxiously about the boxes I’ve moved to the edges of all my rooms to make space for actors to sleep this week. I hope to be able to see Holly Cinnamon’s original solo performance This is the kind of animal that I am later in the week.
I had not seen Bruce Horak’s This is Cancer before, although it had played at Edmonton Fringe a few years ago. It’s … disturbing but in an aesthetically satisfying way. Bruce Horak plays the title role in costume and makeup that are both eye-catchingly sparkly and nastily damaged. Dave Horak (director of Fatboy and Bombitty of Errors, actor in Kill Me Now, and Bruce’s brother) plays Cancer’s stage assistant. There is some singing. There is a very gentle poke at the cancer-fundraising industry. There is a chance for a few audience members to insert obituaries for dead loved ones. There are some other forms of audience interaction some easier than others. As with most performances that have an actor personifying something horrible like Death or the Devil, I found myself torn between liking the personification and wanting him to have a bad outcome. I wondered how the show would manage to reconcile those, and I was moved to tears by the way the ending put the narrative on the side of life and health. Those whose cancer connection is more recent or ongoing might have found it a bit too facile for their truth, but for me it worked well enough to start breathing easily again. There is a short question and answer period afterwards with the performers out of costume.
Going from This is Cancer to Off Book the Musical was a bit emotionally disruptive. But the performance of Off Book was well worth the warm stickiness of a full house at C103. Leif Ingebrigsten accompanied on piano as Matt Alden, Amy Shostak, Hunter Cardinal, Joleen Ballandine, Vince Forcier, and Kory Matheson created and performed an hour-long musical based on audience suggestions of “a wedding” and “a discount warehouse store”, using four rehearsal boxes as the only visible props. The main characters’ problems were both compelling and amusing. The mayor (Matt Alden) wants to marry Mary (Joleen Ballandine) as well as winning an election, but she’s been married four times before, avoided finalising any of the divorces, and considers herself unmarriable. Side plots involve a discount warehouse going out of business (major improv points to Hunter Cardinal who tied up that loose thread of plot right at the end when I had almost forgotten it), and a little boy (Vince Forcier) asking his parents (Amy Shostak and Kory Matheson) how to respond to a proposal he’s received on the playground. There was a little bit of dance, and songs created in a wide range of styles including rap. Off Book also plays frequently at the Rapid Fire Theatre Saturday night CHiMPROV longform shows during the season, but if you like musical improv you should definitely try to catch a show at the Fringe.