Tag Archives: samantha jeffery

Fringe 2017 – the last weekend

A Beautiful View – Perry Gratton directed Nikki Hulowski and Samantha Jeffreys in this Daniel MacIvor script, a lovely celebration of a hard-to-label relationship between two women. “You have to be very organized to be bisexual”, the one explains to herself/the audience while deciding not to follow up on an unexpected sexual encounter.   There are a lot of segments where a character speaks facing the audience – sometimes they are alternating in a conversation with each other as retold to the audience.  I don’t know how much of that is in MacIvor’s script, but I think I remember a lot of it in a play Gratton directed several years ago at Fringe, Letters to Laura.  The ending was … well, there was enough foreshadowing that the not-entirely-explicit awful/sad ending must have actually happened.  But I wish it hadn’t, since I really liked both characters.  They were quite different from each other, but there were things I identified with in both of them.  (A Beautiful View has one holdover performance on Thursday.)

Late Night Cabaret – Late Night Cabaret is an Edmonton Fringe tradition.  It happens at midnight, every night of the Fringe except the last Sunday when things wrap up early.  I only went to it once this year, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on the ongoing jokes and routines.  Hosts Amy Shostak and Julian Faid have guests from other shows every night as well as the very talented house band Ze Punterz.  The Backstage Theatre sells out with happy artists, volunteers, and dedicated fringegoers extending their evening and building community.  It runs about an hour and a half with an intermission, and I think maybe the bar stays open during the show.  Some people go to it every night.

Multiple Organism – This piece by Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail troupe (Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel) was the most original and creative work I saw at this year’s Fringe, and I liked it a lot.  It made extensive use of unusual projection techniques.  Some of it was a little gross, but not gratuitously so.

Rivercity: The musical  – Rebecca Merkley wrote and directed this new musical which seems to be an homage to the Archie-comics characters without quite borrowing their names.   It’s full of amusing quick-changes for double&triple-cast actors, silly puns, and cartoon-inspired sound effects (especially the wind-up-and-dash running starts of red-headed Andrews (Molly MacKinnon), which sounded like the Road Runner or something).  In between, though, there were some touching and serious solos for various characters, particularly for the viewpoint character Bee (Vanessa Wilson) and for the Jughead-like Jonesy (Josh Travnik, also multiply-cast in Evil Dead).   The cast of four (Kristin Johnston plays Reggie and the principal among others) covers too many characters to count.  Live music is provided by Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe, wearing Josie-and-the-Pussycats-style cat-ears. 

Tempting – Erin Pettifor and Franco Correa are a psychic and a sceptic in Ashleigh Hicks’ new script.  When the audience enters the Westbury Theatre auditorium, the large stage has been made into a cozy cluttered studio-space for psychic Alaura (Pettifor).  She is puttering about doing yoga poses in a disjointed distracted way and making tea.  At first it is not clear why Adam is dropping in before business hours, and it is also not clear why Alaura is so immediately adversarial.  Those things do become clear – Adam’s girlfriend Constance is a client, and Adam wants Alaura to recant the advice (or prediction, or support) she gave Constance in a decision Adam doesn’t like.   The problem as described is interesting – Constance is dying and in pain and wants to pursue medically-assisted death, which Alaura supports and Adam doesn’t.  But I don’t really feel compassionate for either of the characters on stage, as I find out more about their motivations and connections to Constance, and I found the ending unsatisfying. 


I think I saw 28 performances this Fringe (one a repeat) and I might see a couple more at holdovers this week.

I Am For You, by Mieko Ouchi

I had the chance to attend the short Edmonton run of a new Concrete Theatre play by Mieko Ouchi that will be touring high schools and junior high schools, I Am For You.  And it made me happy.

The three characters in the play are a student teacher doing a practicum in drama, Mr Morris, (Jonathan Purvis) and the two students he catches fighting, Mariam and Lainie (Patricia Cerra and Samantha Jeffery.)  I found all of them appealing likeable people, and the character growth in the storyline was credible and satisfying.

I thought the student teacher was particularly well done.  He was awkward and inexperienced enough to be believable (the way he winced after talking about “meaty” parts of the body), and at the same time he was able to provide enough exposition for the audience within his teaching persona.  Many of the audience in the show I attended were actors or acting students and I got the impression that they were particularly amused by the things said about his career path from acting student to actor to teacher.  I was more impressed by the way he asked for explicit consent every time he touched his students during stage-combat instruction, and the way the students rolled their eyes at his rule-following but came to trust him.  It always irritates me when scenes of teachers and teenagers don’t fit current Canadian customs on this kind of thing (Friday Night Lights, I’m looking at you), and it is helpful for anyone who might be on either side of a similar situation to see the behaviour modelled properly and to see that it doesn’t disrupt the teachable moments or the physical comfort.

Cerra and Jeffery had realistic portrayals of teenagers, surly and defensive but occasionally becoming more open to each other and to the teacher.  Jeffery’s character is in some ways the harder case, but her flashes of grin are a victory for the teacher and a delight for the audience.  When the detention / fight choreography work ends and they gather up their bags, saying of course the real fight scenes would always go to the boys, I could see that neither of them had any expectation that this could change or that Mr Morris could be persuaded to intercede.   But of course in this story Mr Morris does intercede, persuading the (off stage) play director to cast the two girls as Tybalt and Mercutio.

The performance contains a lot of valuable information about theatre, about stage combat, and about the story and meaning of Romeo and Juliet.   I was fascinated to have some of the techniques of convincing falls and unarmed fights explained and demonstrated, and I was actually disappointed when the teacher says he doesn’t have time to teach them how to do a slap.

At the same time, some powerful messages about violence are being delivered.  Purvis’s character doesn’t let his students get very far into the fun of the choreographed dances of stage fighting before starting to remind them that they are learning to portray something dark and awful.  His statements about Juliet’s father slapping her mother, about slapping being an intimate or private form of violence extra shocking when done in public, and about how it’s the form of violence most often experienced by female characters in plays, connected with the audience as well as with the two students.  Although there is no explicit backstory expounded for the two girls, it is clear that they are aware of “messed up families” and found relevance in that part of the Shakespeare story.

Watching this play would be good entertainment and valuable conversation-starters for school groups, student teachers, beginning actors, or just anyone who likes stories about young people or about teaching.   And having seen this play, I would definitely make a point of watching anything else by Mieko Ouchi.

The Missionary Position is uncomfortable.

If you found this page while searching for advice on a sexual problem, let me pass on my best wishes for comfortable resolution, along with a link to the sexuality-information resource website Scarleteen, directed at young people but useful for anyone with questions or curiosity about sex.  This page is a good starting point, with lots of links elsewhere.  I’m sorry to detour you with my wordplay.

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The Missionary Position was uncomfortable.

But I’m sure that was one of the intentions of playwright Greg MacArthur, in developing the play The Missionary Position for the U of A drama department and the BFA class of 2013.  The preview performance of this world premiere was tonight at the Studio Theatre in the Timms Centre for the Arts on campus.

It didn’t make me cry.  But it definitely made me squirm, and I got the feeling it made a lot of the audience members squirm too.  It touched on disaster tourism, international adoption, various shallow or pathological reasons people would go on a mission trip, and the potentially tragic consequences of well-intentioned badly-planned gestures.  In the play, the visitors are Canadian (from Edmonton) and the country suffering after an earthquake and tsunami is carefully not identified, but I kept thinking, This is Haiti.  This is everything the Haiti activists talk about.  And in fact, in the theatre lobby at intermission I noticed a news article about the New Life Children’s Refuge case, which had some similarities to the story of the play.

It’s a horrifying compelling story, told in alternating scenes of the past and present.  In the present, the young people are being detained in some type of prison because of something about some children, while the scenes of the past and occasional video clips shown on a screen behind the stage develop the story of what happened and why.

The storytelling is much more effective on stage than it would be in a movie.  Because in a movie, they’d have to show the children, the people living under tin and tarps, the scenery, and the jail, rather than the way the audience of the play sees these things through the narration of the visitors.  “Like little brown dolls”, a character describes the children – and without real child actors to distract us, we are limited to this disturbing exoticised view.

There was some recurring imagery, in particular several sets of allusions to water.  A memory of baptism and a newspaper photo of a dead child underwater become analogous in a creepy way.  Glowing water is used in a story about visiting Chernobyl but also in attempts to evoke magical escapism.  And sprays of water pour onto the stage when one character takes a shower, and in another scene where I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be showers, tropical rainfall, or something more darkly symbolic.

The outsider character who seems like the most reliable narrator, the one through whom we find out the truth, is Ben Gorodetsky’s embassy employee, who is distracted by cocaine and celebrities and who also seems somewhat enthralled by Lianna (Lianna Makuch), the leader of the missionary group.  His partner Angie (Angelique Panther), a translator and aid worker who’s been in the country or the region for ten years (so she should know better), has her own smaller version of the tragedy arising through badly-thought-out actions from good intentions.

At the end, the audience didn’t start clapping right away.  Maybe people were sort of stunned.  Then I heard people around me discussing whether the results of the investigation were fair and how much responsibility people should bear for their uninformed parts in other people’s crimes.  Which was probably another of the playwright’s intentions, so I’d say he succeeded.

The Missionary Position plays until February 16th.  You can get tickets at the Timms Centre box office or through Tix on the Square.