An evening of wacky variety and juxtaposition, the first weekend of Fresh Meat 4 is a prime selection of Grade A plays. With the freedom to try and tackle more innovative and unique performances, this first group of local performers have aimed high, and their efforts have shown.
From some rather minimalist productions to one very elaborate set design, these plays manage to compliment and balance each other, establishing a wide range of expectations and content. While they are all unique, the thread of comedy effectively binds them together.
Not knowing what I was to expect, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of shows. The comedy was practiced and awkward, and each performance appeared to have achieved what they set out to do. With one more performance for this set of shows on Oct. 17 (before a new group of artists takes the stage next week), I highly recommend checking out this light-hearted and diverse performance.
Stephen and Me
This performance is one of the most original arguments to vote Stephen Harper out of office that you will ever find. Norah Paton, imbued with the endearing awkwardness of the lovelorn, begins the show by professing her love to Stephen Harper through the recitation of her most recent love letter to him.
Raising valid points in oh-so-awkward ways, Paton’s performance is a must see for fans of Canadian satire, reminiscent as it is of the golden era of This Hour has 22 Minutes.
While Paton carries the performance well herself, it would simply not be the same without the slideshow she brings with her. The collection of news clips, of Harper and Paton’s faces pasted over the images of classic lovers, the Harper-esque recreation of the rose-bath scene from American Beauty: these burning expressions of love add a dizzying height of humour to an already comedic script.
Joseph and Amarise
Adapted from the real chat transcripts of two pubescent teenagers, Catherine Ballachey has created a unique intersection between chat room fantasy and reality. While the first few minutes may suggest the performance is little more than a cheesy romance, it takes a rather unexpected turn as soon as you realize who the dashing Joseph and the voluptuous Amarise (Jake William Smith and Chandel Gambles) actually are.
As the desires of the pubescent teens (Alain Chauvin and Danielle Savoie) begin, more and more, to influence the fantasy playing out before them, it’s priceless to see Joseph and Amarise slowly becoming less and less comfortable with being a part of these proceedings.
With a simple stage design and a clever and unexpected use of props, this production does a lot with very little, and manages to knit two very different styles of narrative together with ease.
While people who know the difference between a Brujah and a True Brujah will certainly understand a few more of the inside jokes, this performance can be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences, regardless of their level of nerd-lore.
The humour in Jesse Buck’s clownish caper, while crude at times, has the audience laughing from start to finish. The comi-tragic protagonist in this one man play, Mr. Eff Bananapants, does his best to impress the audience he’s been given, while never quite reaching the mark.
One of the most impressive and entertaining aspects of Buck’s show is his comic book-esque prop comedy. While some are as simple as a few well-timed visual sound effects, Buck’s props typically have an interactive dimension to them that is only realized when he begins to manipulate them in some ridiculous ways.
Of course, the more complex the set, the more chance there is for something to go wrong. However, Buck takes these foibles in stride, improvising them into their own hilarious twists, such as when the dislocation of a cardboard pigeon’s wing prompted him to carry it careening towards the front row.
From his prop usage, to his effective clowning, to his well-choreographed interactions with animated backgrounds, Buck provides a show that is diverse, well-rehearsed, and entertaining.
Disposable Theatre (manned by Mike Kosowan and Joel Garrow) provides a more minimalistic clowning experience. As two clowns on the run from a chain gang, Garrow and Kosowan must travel incognito via train to safer climates. Of course, it’s never that easy. The antics of these two, an entertaining blend of physical comedy and the absurd, with a few classic gags thrown into mix, get the laughs that they deserve.
Even though it is a largely nonverbal performance, their expressions and clownish overacting is more than enough to tell their story and propel it forward.
While the performance was entertaining throughout, a certain amount of predictability hangs over the performance. However, this can be part of the performance’s charm, serving as a welcome nod to classic gag humour.
Karen Balcome and Kara Nolte’s abstract performance is the most cerebral of the performances. The majority of the action involves a silent scrutiny of both their own bodies and the audience, analyzing them in the darkened theatre with bright magnifying lenses, always silent, and even out of sight at times.
With these overlying themes of perception and selective illumination, this work will leave you wondering. How much was intended? What was accidental? What meaning are you yourself adding to your perception of things? Was that bit near the beginning of the performance (no spoilers) actually a part of the production? The method of this production works to involve you in this way, even though they choose to leave these questions quite obviously unanswered by the end.
Unfortunately, paired with the other works, which involve heightened action and comedy, this act can appear somewhat anti-climactic by comparison.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? Which of this week’s shows did you love the most? Is this your first Fresh Meat experience? Join the discussion and let me know in the comments below.
Fresh Meat 4.1 runs only this Saturday now, October 17th. A new batch of shows hits the stage next weekend for Fresh Meat 4.2, running October 22nd through 24th.