By Any Other Name Would Be So Sweet… but…
From the moment you walk into Café Alt and lay eyes on the realistic set of By Any Other Name, you know something is not quite right. A look down at the program gives you a plot summary, and the first sentence, verbatim, reads: “Ashley and Connor have hooked up, on-line, through eMail.” Ashley and Connor have never met, but due to a mistyped email address they begin an unlikely online correspondence.
They fall in love with each other over the internet and decide to meet, but have no idea what the other looks like (though they realize they should have exchanged pictures, they haven’t). At the start of the play we see Ashley nervously enter the café they’ve arranged to meet at, and ask a middle-aged woman, Patty, a total stranger, to impersonate her just in case Connor is old and creepy.
Is Ashley a terrible person? Yes. Falling in love with someone based purely on their writing and deciding to meet them without any knowledge of their appearance is not only incredibly far-fetched, but also just plain strange when doing such a thing takes merely a matter of instants. Smartphone out, raise for selfie, attach to email. She or he could have done it at literally any point, though admittedly this would shatter the tenuous premise of the show, and then they’d be left without a script.
Meanwhile, Connor arrives at the café with his 50-year old friend Robert. It turns out that Connor is equally anxious about meeting Ashley, so he asks Robert to pretend to be him so that he can check out the situation from afar.
Is Connor a terrible person? Yes: he and Ashley are clearly meant for each other.
Because there are only two tables onstage, Robert and Patty are talking each other up as Connor and Ashley while the real Ashley and Connor unknowingly sit together at the next table over.
No further plot explanation is necessary, because now that I’ve explained the basic premise you can probably guess how it all turns out.
The mistaken identity in comedy is a trope that literally goes back thousands of years (Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors is a clever rip-off of a Roman play) because the humour of watching an actor play a character playing another character heightens not only the dramatic tension onstage, but also draws the audience in to see if the actor can convincingly do it. Nothing about this set-up is convincing, though. The entire plot feels incredibly contrived – why is a Master’s student like Connor best friends with a 50-year old man? I mean, it’s definitely possible, but it’s not explained. Wasn’t Ashley lucky that someone already at the café took enough pity on her to go along with her poorly-thought-out scheme? Throughout Connor and Ashley’s conversation, enough hints are dropped regarding their true identities that they should have put 2 and 2 together long before the big reveal.
On top of it all, none of the characters are particularly likeable. Ashley makes a valid point that women meeting men online take a huge risk when meeting in person, but she’s so defensive throughout that sympathizing with her is incredibly difficult. Connor seems nice enough, but he has little to no personality, a trait he shares with Robert and Patty.
It’s hard to fault the actors when the script is so weak, but David Rowan as Connor and Bruce Spinney as Robert have made the best of what they’ve been given.
The part of this show that is the most frustrating is the very obvious fact that this show does not fit into the usual Fringe mould. The premise, though familiar, is too elaborate for a 50-minute show. Owen Walker, who has both written and directed, has clung to realism so far as to include an actor to play the silent part of the waitress, which is such an incredible waste when you imagine the dramatic possibilities – a narrator, a key character in keeping up the charade, a sassy judgemental character who tells it like it is and bangs Ashley’s and Connor’s heads together – the character represents a wasted opportunity.
Perhaps in a more appropriate theatrical environment and with script editing, this show might find its place. Fringe is not it.
Written, produced, and directed by Owen Walker
Featuring: Madeleine Hall, David Rowan, Ellen Manchee, Bruce Spinney, Tifanni Kenny
Upcoming Shows: (BYOV B: Café Alt)
June 25 @ 20:00
June 26 @ 20:00
June 27 @ 18:00
June 28 @ 14:00