Undercurrents 2016 has lined up an impressive collection of shows for the first half of the festival. From the comedic, to the interactive, to the incredibly thought provoking, this round has a little something for everyone, and enough variety to sit through and watch everything in one evening.
According to festival director Patrick Gauthier, one thing you can expect is a focus on “women’s voices and stories,” with more than 7 in 10 of this year’s writers and directors being women. And truly, they have created some of the most impressive performances in this festival so far. In this, Quote Unquote Collective’s Mouthpiece and Calalou’s Monstrous deserve a special mention.
Quote Unquote Collective’s production of Mouthpiece was the highlight of Undercurrents’ Week One. After spending a night at the bar, Cassandra wakes up to find out that her mother had passed away during the night, and that the rest of her family expects her to deliver the eulogy. Difficult at the best of times, our protagonist has also woken up to find that she has no voice.
Yet, despite having no voice with which to address world, we discover she is actually filled with dozens of fragmentary voices, all vying to be heard, each looking to the eulogy as a means of expression, as a chance to finally be heard. But as these voices rise and fall in her mind, Cassandra has to ask herself just who exactly is this eulogy meant to represent?
Her mother? Cassandra herself? All those women living within an oppressive system?
Cassandra is soon caught in a violent cycle as the voices within her rise briefly before the other voices pointedly call out the legitimacy of the currently ascendent voice.
Most remarkable about this production is the fact that this woman with no voice is actually represented by two different women, actresses Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. With impeccable timing and physicality, they actually manage to generate that impression of being a single person, merging and diverging seamlessly when the situation demands.
Even more importantly, this incredible synchronicity comes to highlight the inevitable dissonance between this multiplicity of voices, showing the fragmentary effects of personal values and the anticipation of external expectations.
We’re all conflicted, and this performance beautifully illustrates just how that is the case.
So far, if you don’t see anything else, see this!
Listen to Me
Listen to Me, by A Resounding Scream Theatre, is one of the more unique and personally interactive performances of the festival, so if you’re eager to buy one of the eight available tickets per performance, just be sure that you’re comfortable with some one-on-one face time with the participating actors.
After a few preliminaries, you’ll soon find yourself introduced to the wonderful world of speed dating, a setting that is both impersonally formulaic (*Ding! Change places!) but contains the potential to be so entirely unique for each participant, hinging as it will on the actor’s personality and your own willingness to engage with them.
Which makes sense because the entire point of this production is to encourage participants to step out of their “digital personae” and interact with a stranger. There is no digital medium through which to distance yourself, no online avatar for you to fall back on, just seven minutes of interaction.
This being said, there are some inherent limitations to this style of performance, with time restrictions being foremost. Of course, it’s all part of the plan for you to become so engaged with another person that you regret not having more time to talk to them in a single sitting, but I found that by the time our course was run, having spoken to not even half of the people there, I wasn’t sure that I’d managed to get into the spirit of the performance.
I felt rushed, but I suppose that happens when speed dating, reenforcing the importance of making good of every single passing moment, because it’s over before you know it.
While non-ticket holders are welcome to watch, I’m not sure what there is to observe from a distance. You can see, perhaps, those participants who are into what is happening, who didn’t realize what they were getting into, who are warming up to people, or building up their defences, able to see the larger patterns of an interacting society.
Monstrous, or, The Miscegenation Advantage
Monstrous, a Calalou production, is the story of Sarah Waisvisz’s personal experience of miscegenation and life in the diaspora. A tracing of lineage, a breaking down of skin colours and genetic types into component pieces, Waisvisz takes us on a search for a sense of belonging that touches on racial identity but goes far beyond this as well.
Waisvisz’s performance is lighthearted, able to bring a smile to your face during those emotionally uplifting scenes, but also serving as a foil for those less than pleasant moments when she chips away at the veneer of childhood and children’s songs, revealing the clear and troubling impact that colonialism has had and continues to have on the diaspora.
As for the performance itself, I love this style, with its emphasis on the craft of storytelling. In all honesty, it reminded me a lot of a 2015 Ottawa Fringe show, I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, with the ways in which the story developed. After the fact, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Waisvisz’s dramaturg was Emily Pearlman, the creator of that memorable Fringe performance.
While I enjoyed Waisvisz’s use of media in her performance (the visual media in particular, which allowed for some especially stunning and possibly unintentional shadow effects), I found her use of audio to be distracting at times. Some of the bedtracks and sound effects were just loud enough to compete with her voice, which is a drawback in a performance rooted in storytelling.
Next to Mouthpiece, this was one of the most stirring performances of the evening, and also goes on my list of shows to recommend if you have the chance.
Forstner & Fillister Present: Forstner and Fillister In: Forstner and Fillister
Brothers Forstner and Fillister, played by Will Somers and David Benedict Brown, are here to teach us all about the wonders of wood-working and the strength of brotherly bonds. But then, why does Forstner look as though he’s ready to wipe the smile from Fillister’s face with a belt sander?
As a friend commented, “if you like the full title of this play, then you will like this play.” At this point, I can think of no truer statement. This show has ridiculous comedy, cheesy wood-working humour, and an abundance of dramatic, brotherly tension.
Tempers run high in all the right ways in this performance. Just try and keep a straight face while watching Somers glower at Brown while the latter tries to teach the audience the proper use of a hand plane. Or during Forstner’s rage-y tour of wood-working through the ages.
Fillister’s happy-go-lucky personality, however, is the perfect counter to his brother’s gloom, in that it only adds fuel to Forstner’s fire.
Get ready to smell the sawdust as well, as Somers and Brown bring out a variety of power tools, from hand drills to circular saws. There’s almost an edgy kind of danger here, watching these two brothers explain the safe handling of these tools while clearly unable to keep their emotions in check.
While there’s certainly a number of jokes that only wood-workers will comprehend the true depth of, F&F Theatre’s Forstner & Fillister is a show that will certainly have anyone laughing by the end of it.