Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: Theatre

Review: Internet Girlfriend (A Bit Much Productions)

One of the blessings of digital theatre is opening yourself up to a blending of art forms. While some companies choose to leave the camera still and let the performances do the talking, others embrace the sense of play and structural possibilities and run with it.

With Internet Girlfriend, from A Bit Much Productions, we get just that, a theatre/film hybrid that is as much moving pictures as it is moving bodies that will likely expand your vision of what it means to watch a play.

The story centers on the relationship between Daisy (Megan Adam), a Youtouber working her way through life sharing ideas and growing pains on camera, and Connor Beck (Leo Mates), a singer-songwriter of considerable renown who’s regularly on Youtube’s front page.

The thin line between admiration and hero-worship quickly comes to the fore when, after we’ve followed Daisy into adulthood, she receives a video call from Beck, who she’s vlogged about as a long-time fan, and she is instantly at the mercy of his approval. He doesn’t ring in at random, either; rather, it’s suggested that he builds up to that moment to grant it a sense of authenticity, a hint of nefariousness to it all, but barely enough to notice.

Over subsequent calls, and a very short amount of time, the two build a virtual rapport and end up living together. But again, as viewers, we are given tiny reasons to pause if we care to notice, reasons that seem to be escalating into a fight-or-flight situation. This time, they concern Beck’s language toward Daisy, which I’d describe as establishing superiority veiled in cutesy tones (note his use of the word ‘weird’), and saying all the right romantic things (which he clearly doesn’t mean) to someone so taken with him she’ll default to believing him no matter what he says. Once they’re living out of Connor’s flat, the power dynamics at play come into fuller view.

To get through to people, I think a work of art about abuse should say so in a multitude of ways without spelling it out and devolving into a P.S.A. Internet Girlfriend abides by this view, such that you may not know what’s going on until you take the time to add up every hint of trouble.

Adam excels at the delicate job of guiding us to this realization, because Daisy’s struggle to differentiate between the world on screen and the world outside is also our struggle. As critical consumers of media, we all know to lead with skepticism before we’re presented with tangible proof, but that’s of course not always the case. We all get carried away. The adoration Adam fills Daisy’s eyes with transforms the red flags she’s surrounded by into scenery, right up until we can’t ignore them any longer. In this way, the audience has a chance for their moral compasses to kick in before they’re kicked in for us.

Mates, as the other half of this two-hander, provides us with a performance that does what it’s supposed to, which is to be vile, slimy and see-through, to summon up in us everything we know to be holy and good, because all we can do is watch his character embody the exact opposite.

Once the pair are in Beck’s flat, his transgressions begin to tap us on the head a little harder, always nudging Daisy in the direction of his preferences, convincing her that her suffering is self-inflicted, while constantly reminding her that their relationship is special and worth cherishing. And it devolves into much worse from there. While Daisy’s idealization might jumpstart our critical faculties by dulling them, Beck’s objectification of her, first as an undertow, then conceited and unconscionable, should bring to mind a long list of powerful men who chose to inflict trauma over remembering the feeling of the ground beneath their feet.

Going back to my point on hybridity, this all unfolds through a mix of live-action shots and confessional-style YouTube videos that lend themselves to the feeling of getting to know someone. The proximity of Daisy and Connor’s facial expressions, they in front of their laptops, us in front of ours, tricks us into thinking words like ‘relationship’ and ‘intimacy’ are appropriate descriptors, when what we’re seeing are just representations made convincing by patchy narratives our brains went ahead and filled in. I applaud this choice, this immersion into the digital, not only on account of its timeliness, but also the fact that the play wouldn’t be as effective if carried out on a stage in its entirety. This is theatre of the Internet that managed to entrench itself in my ethical engine and reinforce how precious and flawed it is when people let you into their lives.

Hats off to Director Melly Magrath for tying everything together with a sense of awe at human connection, in spite of the monsters one must contend with along the way.

Hat off also to Adam and her writing, as there are numerous lines throughout the show that encapsulate their respective moments with a flair/precision you cannot teach. You’ll know them when you hear them.

I’ll stop short of spoiling the crescendo and denouement, but they strike me as tidily and realistically executed, imbuing Daisy with the awareness and newfound consciousness one would hope to gain after such an ordeal. 

Internet Girlfriend runs until November 28, 2021.

20% of the proceeds will be donated to The Redwood Shelter.

Review: UnTuned (Golvareh)

It’s hard to prepare for life’s highs and lows when you think too highly of yourself to expect them. You will bet on yourself, but you won’t hedge the pursuit of that dream with a surer, albeit less satisfying, option. It is the dream or nothing. 

With Sarah Saberi’s UnTuned, we find ourselves on the nothing side of things for the story of a struggling musician and immigrant to Canada on his 40th birthday as he video calls with family and friends back in Iran.

Amir Hosein Taheri, as Massoud, the musician, brings a lighter air to the angst of unfulfillment, cracking jokes, often at others’ expense, to distract himself from confronting why his art did not work out as expected. His sulking posture and indifferent face, even at the happiest of moments, kept reminding me of Camus’ The Stranger, except somehow laced with hilarity, which is no small feat.

I think Massoud succeeds at keeping us interested in his lack of creative and romantic achievements because he can’t help brushing up against it, forcing himself to react. There are constant opportunities for self-reflection, most of which he swats away, but yet, he keeps answering birthday calls in search of more. I call that spirit and he has it in droves, even though he can’t always recognize how it shines through everything he does.

At its base, this play about failure in love and work is supported by love itself, made all the more intense by the distance between Massoud and his callers, though they are side by side on the screen. That mix of relief, longing and joy you get when you Zoom the right person is the fertile soil from which this story comes to light.

One pivotal scene concerns Banafsheh Taherian, as Atefeth, Massoud’s high-achieving friend, who stood out to me as an example of artifice adding to rather than subtracting from authenticity. Atefeth is a hyperbolic extension of everything Massoud might wish for, so much so she’s almost perfect, a statistical rational anomaly in a world of people all up in their feelings barely getting by. Her jovial effortless exceptionalism teaches us how very seriously Massoud takes her as a measuring stick for his own accomplishments, though he’d never admit it, setting him (and us) up for how unexplained expectations are always guaranteed disappointments. 

Another key scene involves Farzaneh Soheili, as Bahareh, who offers us a heavy dose of badassery as, one by one, she throws Massoud’s put downs right back in his face. She pulls this off with vigor, questioning the foundations of the meaning in his life, savouring the pulls from her cigarette with a stiff upper lip as an action star might. The pair makes for a crescendo I found to be a satisfying payoff to Massoud’s broody soul-searching.

Every caller in UnTuned succeeds at reflecting Massoud back at himself at an angle he’s too stuck to tease out on his own. From his mother (Fariba Jedikar) to his sister (Faranak Kalantar) to his job interviewer (Ashley Mauerhofer), there are intimations of the great promise he can’t seem to reignite. And Saberi, as Director, does well to end things with a nod to self-care suggesting he may never be able to, and that’s OK, so long as he can have his own back once the inevitability of change comes calling.

If you’re interested in a character study that cycles you through the full scope of human emotion, you made it. You’re here.

Watch UnTuned as part of Toronto Fringe’s Digital Fringe here until August 22 at 11:59 pm ET.

Review: The Apologist (Cleen Theatre)

apologist

Colleen Osborn’s The Apologist , a Cleen Theatre production, is a two-hander comedy/thriller that follows a unique premise: what if it was socially acceptable to pay someone to apologize for you? What would the consequences of existing in such a world be? Set in the Imperial Pub’s back room, we are treated to a considered meditation on these ideas that manages to be both hilarious and legitimately tense. 

Evan Walsh plays Cliff Manners, a.k.a. The Apologist, a professional apologizer who will express sympathy on behalf of anyone unwilling to do it themselves. The character Walsh has given form to is commendable for his warped sense of vulnerability. Since Manners is well-practiced and able to perform being sorry so well, the kick in the gut that comes from fessing up to a mistake no longer holds sway with him. Because he cannot have shame in his line of work, having to show regret for everything from white lies, to infidelity, to crimes against humanity, there’s no morality to reign in his behaviour. He comes off like a livewire, charming on the surface, but cocksure on the edge of causing irreparable harm under the impression of just doing his job. We meet him delivering an apology to a woman from the people who recently ran her dog over.

Carmen Kruk plays that woman’s roommate, Marsha, whose quirky, fragile exterior evolves very slowly into the fanaticism of Stephen King’s Misery. What Kruk does so well is emote, allowing facial expressions to do the heavy lifting, lending a sense of care and craft to her performance. What those expressions capture feels like a split personality, where psychosis intermittently overcomes Marsha’s kind and generous mind like a TV finding and losing reception. Kruk’s enunciation work is another point in favour of craft. There’s virtuoso flair to how she derives a laugh or a chill from stretching a word out or emphasizing the wrong syllable.

The Apologist is funnier than work this creepy tends to be, and it’s creepier than work this funny tends to be. Osborn’s writing chops offer her actors all the necessary tools to make this happen, including puns, made up words, snappy turns of phrase, and lots of emotional reversals that served to pull the rug from under my expectations at every turn. She also backs up the play’s name by getting philosophical about the nature of apologies. The characters spend a lot of time discussing what merits an apology, the importance of who delivers it, and what authenticity means in a world where mistaken tones in text messages can have life-changing consequences. Their back-and-forths are fruitful in that they leave arguments in the air to stew unresolved, pointing to the play’s unspoken but ever-present truth: an apology can only be validated by the person who receives it.

Director Chelsea Dab Hilke works wonders with such a small space. The set is built around two chairs and a chest in the center that delineate a round race track of sorts, one the actors take full advantage of to enhance a line. Sometimes it’s to create distance from and a barrier between each other to sharpen a show of emotion. At others, there’s a threat of violence and the desperate need to flee. Their dynamism is evidence of some first-class blocking work. The chairs’ proximity carries airs of a therapy session, of a level of intimacy we aren’t usually privy to beyond our own. I was unsettled by this, the possibility of some grand secret always seemingly about to drop. I also found the symbol of circularity a complementary choice, signalling that characters like these are destined to keep running into each other—Manners, who doesn’t differentiate between a real apology and an impeccably performed one, and Marsha, who is perhaps unstable enough to no longer be able to tell the difference.

Where the play gets a little careless is its run time. The second half drags on because the twists and revelations happen too early, such that the plot doesn’t have much juice left to propel the story to the end. Kruk and Walsh fill in the gap with plenty of passion though. I was too caught up in their characters’ concerns to notice. When it comes down to it, The Apologist is an entertaining, substantive endeavor that blends genres into art greater than the sum of its parts. 

  • Runs at the Imperial Pub (54 Dundas East) on Saturday, October 26, at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets here.

Poster of Evan Walsh provided by the company.

My Latest Review for Mooney on Theatre: The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare in the Ruff)

The Winter's Tale

This outdoor adaptation of The Winter’s Tale – produced by Shakespeare in the Ruff – is playing at the bottom of a little hill in beautiful Withrow Park. It boasts a superlative cast, comedy with improv’s unpredictability, and monologues that will run your heart through the emotional gamut, then give it back refreshed for the real world.

The play tells of a king’s jealousy getting the best of him, how it leads him to lose his wife and children. And how finally, the universe conspires to grant him one final chance to atone for his paranoid, authoritarian ways.

Director, Dramaturg, and Choreographer, Sarah Kitz never let us slip into fairy tale comfort. This is because, though brimming with laughs, family trauma is at the heart of The Winter’s Tale. And it never quite dislodged enough from my short-term memory to let me believe everything was okay. She gets across how the play is Shakespeare’s tragedy masquerading as a comedy. She offers us a world where life can only have joy if there is sorrow to recognize itself against.

When Leontes, King of Sicily, gives in to paranoia and accuses his wife, Hermione, of being unfaithful with his best friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, he unwittingly sentences himself to a devastating fate. He doesn’t know that it will be 16 long years of shame and isolation before he gets to see his then-infant daughter, Perdita, again. She is betrothed to Polixenes’ son, Florizell, and they are giving the whole family thing one more go.

Kitz keeps her cast on point by emphasizing fundamentals. They project voices and exaggerate gestures, so the performance reaches the farthest row back. That way, passers-by crossing my line of sight were less likely to pull me out of the story.

Maddie Bautista’s music and lyrics combined with Kitz’s choreography are crowd-pleasers. This offsets the effort of parsing through the dialogue, which is delivered for the most part in its original Elizabethan English.

Richard Lee plays King Leontes and the son of the Old Shepherd who raises baby Perdita after she’s abandoned in the forest. Lee’s charisma and non-stop energy are a delight to behold. A gifted comic actor, he brings a “yes, and” mindset to the stage, completely open to anything unexpected that might happen in the open-air environment. At one point, as the Shepherd’s son, he accidentally nudges baby Perdita in her carrier. His split-second decision to apologize to her with a quick, “sorry, baby!”, sent a roar of laughter through the audience, filling us with excitement for what might come next.

On the dramatic side of things, Lee portrays Leontes’ jealousy with a hint of dictator’s delusion. It’s the kind you catch from living in an echo chamber of yes-men and from thinking your blood is godly. Leontes is captivating because he is unsteady. He believes any idea that pops into his head, supported by a heartbreaker of a monologue, unfettered and arresting in its intensity. As the play’s program proclaims, this is the 17th-century version of a telenovela.

Tiffany Martin plays Leontes’ wife, Hermione, as well as Autolycus, a Bohemian pickpocket who finds a heart when Florizell and Perdita need him most. Martin does so with the kind of gusto reserved for one’s most cherished activities. Every line is savoured, gifted to us as opposed to merely delivered. Highlights include Hermione’s final monologue and the scene where Autolycus imitates royalty. The first is an absolute showstopper. It is brash and eloquent and fearless in its vulnerability, all of it amplified by stage lights catching the tears streaming down her face. The second is an exaggeration, executed to perfection, that finds humour in but also questions how we carry ourselves according to how we want to be seen.

Eponine Lee plays Leontes’ son, Mamillius, with a sadness beyond her years. Her rendition of the bear that chases Leontes’ aid, Antigonus, off stage after he abandons baby Perdita in the forest is a mix of whimsy and terror that disarms with every growl. This is indeed the subject of Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

Jani Lauzon is exceptional as the Old Shepherd, Perdita’s adopted parent. She brings the slapstick every chance she gets, relishing the space to ham it up with a funny walk, or a triple take when something shocking happens. The warmth with which Lauzon shares the Shepherd’s hyperactivity made me feel like a kid at a birthday party with the best clown money could buy.

My guest, Ricky, found the actors’ commitment to the material incredibly engaging. It didn’t matter that people were walking their dogs or having picnics all around you. He also considered the pre-show land acknowledgement an effective way to both raise consciousness and get people in the mood to listen to poetic language.

The cast as a whole is the epitome of professionalism, staying loose with precision and intention as this classic story unfolds. There’s no recitation by rote to be had here, and little in the way of suspending disbelief. Toronto is no Sicily, but the performances fooled me. That each actor plays multiple characters only speaks higher of their skill.

A more than honourable final mention to the Young Ruffians, members of Shakespeare in the Ruff’s theatre creation apprenticeship program, for warming up the crowd before the show with ice cream and peanut butter themed Shakespeare improv. The evening would not have been nearly as enjoyable without them.

Details

  • The Winter’s Tale is playing at Withrow Park (725 Logan Avenue) until September 2, 2019.
  • Performances run Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30pm.
  • Tickets range from $20 to $30 online and are Pay-What-You-Can in the park.
  • In case of rain, performances will continue until no longer deemed safe, in which case, audience members will be given a voucher to come back on another night.

Photo of Richard Lee and Eponine Lee by Dahlia Katz.

Read on at Mooney on Theatre

New Review: Louis Laberge-Côté’s The art of degeneration (DanceWorks)

Read my review of Louis Laberge-Côté’s The art of degeneration (DanceWorks) here. Runs til Nov 3 at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Louis Laberge-Co^te_-Smoke & Pearls-ph by Jeremy Mimnagh-sm

 

Read my review of The Men in White on Mooney on Theatre

My review of Anosh Irani’s play, The Men in White (Factory Theatre), is live on Mooney on Theatre. Read it here.

DqFNtn5UwAAEiSt

My review of Homewrecker is up on Mooney on Theatre

My review of Homewrecker—presented by Coyote Collective, Leroy Street Theatre, and Scapegoat Collective—is up on Mooney on Theatre. Read it here.

Homewrecker poster

Review: Save Room for Superior Donuts

Here’s my review of Coal Mine Theatre’s Superior Donuts! On til Feb 26. Read it here on The Theatre Reader

designed-by-kostis-petridis

Poster by Kostis Petridis.

The Container is Interactive Theatre at its Activist Best

It’s that good. Here’s why.

The Container photo by Lauren Posloski

Photo by Lauren Posloski.

This is the August: A Caring and Uncompromising Look at the Viral Age

Still a couple shows left for This is the August at SummerWorks 2016. I’m still reminiscing about this play 10 days after the fact. Here’s my review.

August

 

Instructions: An Odd Couple Parable That Challenges And Delights

My review of Instructions (To Any Future Socialist Government Wishing To Abolish Christmas) is up on The Theatre Reader.

Check it here.

Instructions

 

Markowiak’s Lemon Tells The Young Adult Blues

My review of Andrew Markowiak’s LEMON, produced by Filament Incubator. Read it in Sewer Lid Magazine.

Lemon

%d bloggers like this: