What happens when a fair-sized group of Ottawa’s emerging artists decide it’s time to showcase their talents? An evening of theatre, six-micro-shows long, with each one being as different from the others as the artists themselves.
Should you see it?
The Fresh Meat Festival kicked off its 3-night run Friday at Pressed Café at 750 Gladstone Ave and looks may be deceiving right off the bat. At first glance, one walks into a very cramped and poorly set up café with a pretty sorry excuse for a stage and minimal seating. With Pressed pressed for space, finding seating is a job in itself and half of the audience finds themselves standing along the wall or the back bar. But if a show can thrive in this venue, it may just be worth the $15 cover. (Of course, that these artists are able to draw such a crowd is certainly not a bad thing.)
DUSK & DAWN: First up was May Can Theatre’s Dusk & Dawn, a play about Olivia the owl, who wants to be a mother but her eggs are never fertilized. Her desire to be seen as a good mother becomes obsessive when she adopts Daniel, an orphaned deer. This play is theatre of the absurd incarnate, and it continuously teeters between the borders of comedy and tragedy. It’s saved by its wit, charm and originality, where its actors, script and presentation provided me the same reaction as drinking flat soda — mild disappointment. The play wouldn’t work in any other setting but here, the pros outweighed the cons to make this a nice opening number for the night.
GRIMprov: Secondly, our evening’s hosts, Grimpov Theatre, took the stage to present their interpretation of how the movie Requiem for a Dream could have played out with any strange sort of addiction. For our show, our trio were addicted to sharpening pencils, cleaning with Swiffers and starting funeral homes. The 20 minute vignette was hilarious from start to finish and if it were longer it would have been worth the $15 cover alone. The trio play off of each other so well, and are quick on their feet, creating laughter and entertainment throughout the entire course of their show. Each night the guys are doing a different movie themed show, all with audience suggestions of course.
SUMMER OF ’34: The third show of the night was Backpack Theatre’s Summer of ’34. A young man attempting to save his brother decides he will go to any lengths to do it. The play is a drama, probably obviously, and is presented by Jonah Allingham. Allingham is good. He knows his material. He seems comfortable on the stage, but I would have been more interested in the content of this play if it had been expanded upon and presented with a bigger cast. As a one-man show this play is dull and lifeless. By the end I didn’t even really care what happened to the unlikeable main character, even though his fate is seen a million miles away.
TALES SHE TELLS: Fourth Up, was Tess Mc Manus and her attempt at Celtic storytelling in Tales She Tells. The problem with the show is that it wasn’t a show; it was Tess telling Celtic stories on stage at a mile a minute – so fast that she kept stumbling over her own words. I wasn’t even sure if Tess was being a character who is a scattered storyteller or if she was just herself, Tess Mc Manus, telling stories. The presentation was all over the place and by ten minutes into the show I stopped caring what was going on, and it was only a 20 minute show. The one highpoint was the opening where Tess sang while making her way to the stage. She does have quite a lovely singing voice, that’s for sure.
THE HENCHMAN’S SURVIVAL GUIDE: Fifth up was Jake William Smith in The Henchman’s Survival Guide and this is what one-man shows are all about. Jake plays an evil henchman, welcoming a whole series of recruits to their new evil army, except that he isn’t sure he actually wants to stay a henchman anymore. Throughout his short one-man act he guides and instructs the audience how to survive as an evil henchman. It’s quite brilliant and hilarious. The last time I saw a one-man show that was this funny and original was when I saw Gametes & Gonads at The Ottawa Fringe Festival 2012. The Henchman’s Survival Guide is quite clever from beginning to end and never beats a dead horse. I’m not sure whether I liked this or GRIMprov’s show the most; but they were most certainly close in the running!
CAUTION: DON’T FEED THE MERMAIDS: Last but not least, The Fresh Meat Festival closed itself off with another theatre of the absurd short: Caution: Don’t Feed the Mermaids. A young woman with tentacles for arms befriends an evil mermaid who wants to eat human flesh. While the young woman only wants to be accepted by her peers, she soon realizes that the mermaid is only out for herself. While this final play was a bit weaker to go out on, it was curious enough to make me pay attention and stay focused for the run. The actors were solid and lively. The banter was witty and fresh. The script’s dialogue dragged a little, but overall – it was just some good old honest fun with a ‘no harm, no foul’ feel to it.
(Note: The order of shows will change every night.)
So, in the end The Fresh Meat Festival had its fair share of hits and misses. However, to be honest, six 20 minute plays with intermissions between each one felt a little long to be stuck in a cramped and crowded hipster bar. The talent is there. The drive and ambition is there. And overall it is an entertaining night that can only get better each year it’s given the chance to. Make sure you check out the Fresh Meat Festival at Pressed Café at 750 Gladstone, Saturday & Sunday night!
What did you think? Which was your favourite show of the festival? What just wasn’t doing it for you? Tell us in the comments below.
Top photo (also feature image) taken for Production Ottawa by Production Ottawa photographer, David Pasho.
Remaining show photos provided by the respective companies via the Fresh Meat Theatre Festival.