Summer of ’34: REDUX

Meaghan Flaherty

                Immediately following their recent collaboration with May Can Theatre at the 2013 Fringe festival, Backpack Theatre launches right into a remount of Summer of ’34, which was originally performed at the Fresh Meat festival. Re-written and with new designers, Summer of ’34: Redux, follows Jim as he tries in 1934 Ottawa to make enough money to save his little brother Toby from Polio while battling his own unemployment and alcoholism. Jim takes some drastic measures after meeting up with his friend who is selling opium, and decides that he will pick up where his friend left off. This one-man show written and performed by Jonah Allingham is entertaining and to the point with some well contrived directorial and sound elements thrown in with the charm of its somewhat poetic script.

Playing at the Happy Goat Coffee House in Hintonburg, the setting is very intimate, and very suited to the style of narrative that Allingham presents. It begins with Allingham playing Jim at the local bar drinking away his problems as he chugs many beers on stage. These cans are then used in a later scene to show the brutal beating of Jims’ friend, which leads him to continue an opium deal in his place in order to save his brother. The way the cans were used was an excellent way to substitute for the lack of other bodies on stage. It not only threw the audience for a loop, but also created the much needed action on stage which is usually lacking in one man shows. This happens again towards the end as Allingham beats the front tire of a bicycle which he has been riding on a stand throughout the show. This second beating, coupled with some great sound transitions right after (designed by Lewis Caunter) was very engaging, and led perfectly into the beautiful last monologue that ended the rather short piece. The direction by Leslie Cserepy created these wonderful moments of engagement in just the action, as the piece overall is quite wordy.

Allingham did a great job creating the multiple characters presented. If there was more differentiation in the tone, speed, or timbre of his voice between different segments of the story, such as explanations and expositions, it would take the audience even further into the story. His tone was a bit one-dimensional without those differentiations, but his performance was sincere and he managed to keep me engaged and ultimately entertained. The end of the piece brought his whole performance full circle, and was quite touching. Summer of ’34: Redux, is a short, intimate and casual show. It is wonderful to see what is up and coming for Ottawa theatre, and I look forward to seeing more from Backpack and the Summer of ’34: Redux production team.

Written and Performed by Jonah Allingham

Directed by Leslie Cserepy

Props design by Kriten Saar

Sound and light design and Stage Managed by Lewis Caunter