If you’re in withdrawal from the Ottawa Fringe or other summer theatre festivals, then the Fringe Encore at Arts Court will definitely tide you over until Undercurrents – especially if you haven’t seen one or both of the shows on offer, because they both feature a sophistication of writing that goes beyond what you might normally expect from a Fringe show.
I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, a solo storytelling show by Emily Pearlman, ran a sold-out run this past Fringe when I first reviewed it. That review is still posted on this site and while I stand by my comments in that review, the pressure of reviewing 23 shows in 8 days (or something like that, it’s a bit of a blur now) meant that I had to be fairly brief. Having seen Pearlman’s show again with only the slightest of changes (namely moving venues down the hall), I’d like to expand a little.
The storytelling nature of this show means that there is little to look at besides the projections (minimalistic but well executed) and Pearlman herself; a major component of this show is your own self-reflection while you listen to some heavily emotional content. While the material for this show is derived from Pearlman’s personal experiences in travelling, most of the emotional content deals with global issues that affect humanity in general rather than personal conflicts.
When these issues are presented to us through the filter of Pearlman’s account, however, the focus shifts not from the fact that these issues exist but rather to the insecurities we feel when speaking about them – Pearlman talks about humanitarian tragedies such as the genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust, but anyone who’s ever awkwardly mumbled “sorry” after learning that their conversational partner has been through a emotionally traumatic experience (death of a loved one, etc.) has been in that position. The moral lesson of this show – be nice to people, try not to offend them but apologize when you do, because every now and then you will – is a simple one, but as Pearlman astutely points out with I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, it’s not always so obvious.
Concrete Drops’ Moonlight after Midnight premiered at the Ottawa Fringe last year and has toured around North America since then. Written by Fringe favourite Martin Dockery and dramaturged by his artistic partner Vanessa Quesnelle, Moonlight features them both: a man sits alone in a hotel room and is surprised by an escort he claims he never ordered – or did he? The issue is cast aside fairly quickly and they delve into a relationship marked by scenes, years apart, where they meet again in that hotel room – or are the man and escort in the first scene just role-playing?
The script for this show is reminiscent of Pinter – the conversation flows naturally and snappily for the most part, sometimes up to Gilmore Girls speed. The immediate circumstances of each scene are supplied through conversation, but the ambiguity of the whole still leaves you wondering which level of reality is the “right” one. Each scene follows the same basic formula – she walks into the room, he is surprised she is there, they argue, then they start to direct each other into the roles they’re both playing, before turning on the “radio” (supplied by Quesnelle’s lovely singing voice) and moving onto the next scene.
Far from making the show predictable, this structural similarity between the scenes provides something of a crutch for the spectator. Since the basic plot of the whole show can be explained via two equally plausible interpretations, the recurring scenic structure helps each scene to stand on its own and provides a formal continuity, while the meaning of the content is much harder to pin down. Ultimately it doesn’t matter which explanation is correct; whether or not the relationship between the two is purely a commercial transaction or a meaningful (and troubled) relationship, throughout this hour-long play each directs the other into playing their role more appropriately, and arguing over how their roles should be played. Even if they really are in a relationship, it is clear that a certain amount of role-playing is expected in real life just as it is when we “pretend.”
The minimalistic set (literally just a few black blocks and a chair, also black) heightens this stress on role-playing (or dare I say performative actions, to use an academic term?); when there is literally nothing to look at besides the two actors onstage, the world they construct for themselves takes over the physical reality. I mean, it’s either that or the practical constraints of a Fringe show demand a bare-bones set, but it does play well into the question of ‘what’s real?’ besides economic necessity.
My partner in crime and taskmistress Brie McFarlane reviewed this show at the 2014 Fringe and assures me that the ending has changed from that initial production – not having seen both, however, I can only say that this version works extremely well within itself, and anyone else who saw it last year has a wonderful opportunity to see how a show can grow.
This (very) mini-festival encore is not the first time the Fringe has done something like this, and the programming choice in picking two very solid productions for remounting shows how the festival has grown even in the last few years. While typical Fringe fare like bawdy comedies and cabaret-type shows still have their place at the Ottawa Fringe, the festival is proving itself to be a testing ground for shows that still hold up during the regular theatre season – an excellent sign for the Ottawa theatre community.
I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent
Created and Performed by Emily Pearlman
Direction and Dramaturgy by Laurel Green
Moonlight After Midnight
A Concrete Drops production
Written by Martin Dockery
Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle
Performed by Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle
At Arts Court Theatre, October 8-10 2015
Managing Director: Kevin Waghorn
Festival Director: Patrick Gauthier
General Manager: H.M. Connors
Technical Director: Ted Forbes
Volunteer Manager: Chantal Hayman
Communication Manager: Greggory Clark
Communication Coordinator: Hayley Robateau
Metcalf Foundation Intern: Emily Carvell
Program Artwork by Daniel Moisan