Algonquin College’s Theatre Arts grads produce three shows in their final semester of study. First up for this year’s group is 7 Stories, some existential surrealism about a guy looking to jump to his death and accidentally picking the busiest 7th story ledge in New York.
Should you see it?
7 Stories is a bit of absurd existentialism dealing with the questions of what is real, what is fake, and does it matter? Everybody who sees this show will take something different away from it, possibly even nothing at all. It’s set on the ledge of a seven-story apartment building somewhere in the ’50s. A character whose only name is Man is on the ledge. He’s ready to jump. Then, he unexpectedly finds himself embroiled in the lives of the building’s inhabitants who can’t keep from poking their heads out their windows. Each of the generally surreal characters represents a different take on the aforementioned questions of reality.
This is a student production so, as expected, there is some unevenness here and there (some off timing here, some false character moments there) but under Mary Ellis’ direction, Algonquin’s Theatre Arts grads do a mostly fine job with a challenging show and some very restrictive staging.
David Hania was especially solid as the meek and awkward, yet well-dressed, Man. As the only character to have any growth – and the only character on stage for the full ninety-minute run time – it’s interesting to watch him go from being completely overwhelmed and entirely confused by the strong personalities around him to becoming more confident and able to hold his own.
Most of the other gents were capable enough, particularly Oliver Korany who played two characters in one, but it was the young actresses in the group, all of them doing double duty, who shone brightest. Mumsie Odirile faded into the set as the lady from window seven but came to life as the one hundred year old dame from window number one who gives Man a proverbial push. Amanda Logan’s Charlotte was deliberately loud and melodramatic, which created a wonderful contrast to her cynical yet caring Nurse Wilson. And Sarah Patrick had my heart from her very first line. I have a real fondness for Luna Lovegood nonsense-crazy type characters and somebody who does them well instantly gets my undivided attention. I would not have complained had she had a lot more stage time. Patrick also played a wonderfully silly Christian who likes to answer the prayers of the folk from the sixth floor.
One problem with absurd or existential theatre is that it ain’t for everybody. Because there isn’t really a strict narrative – we don’t follow any of the characters through any kind of journey – it’s easy to come away thinking “I don’t get it.” In these cases, it’s best to go in knowing that the question is the “it” and there’s nothing to get. It’s about laughing and wondering and philosophizing along with the play as to just what this whole thing called life is all about.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to hear what you think. Is absurdist theatre just a bunch of nonsense or does it have a place in the theatre ecosystem? Which of the characters in 7 Stories felt truest to your own life or philosophies? Let me know in the comments below. I’m waiting.
7 Stories runs now through this Sunday at the Algonquin College Studio N112. Full details in our show article.
Final thought: The most unfortunate thing about Algonquin Theatre Arts’ production of 7 Stories, and this only applies for the night I was there, is that the house was horribly small. As in the cast almost outnumbered the audience small. A small house is a quiet house and a quiet house is the death of a comedy. Particularly with inexperienced actors such as these students who aren’t used to being in this situation, you could tell that the silence hurt their confidence and took away from the energy I feel they had in them. With this script in particular, the power of the comedy, and by extension the performance, really lies in having that engaged feedback loop with a lively audience. I’m entirely confident that in the presence of a reasonable-sized audience, this show would come to life at a level I wish I could have seen. So if you’re reading this, if you’re on the fence about going, do it. These are a good group of up-and-comers and they deserve our support. They’re worth our support.
Unless you hate theatre of the absurd. I’d never suggest that you go see a show you’re just likely to hate.