The Ottawa Fringe has come up with a great way to extend the “#ottfringe experience” by bringing back two hit productions from past (and not so past) years, giving theatregoers one last chance to catch shows that were particularly sought-after during their initial runs at the Festival. This year the Fringe Encore presented a remount of the shows I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent by Emily Pearlman and Concrete Drops’ Moonlight After Midnight at Arts Court Theatre. Both productions showcase an excellence in playwrighting and if you didn’t manage to catch them at Fringe the first time around, this was a good opportunity.
This was my second time viewing these shows, having seen Pearlman’s newest solo piece this past year and Moonlight After Midnight during its world premiere at the 2014 Ottawa Fringe. Since then, these pieces have changed and grown in their own respective ways. Moonlight (performed by Fringe favourites Martin Dockery and Vanessa Quesnelle), of course, has had a year of touring and development behind it whereas Boyfriend…Accent is more recent coming off its first Fringe, however, it is by no means less sophisticated.
You can read my original review for Moonlight After Midnight here and though I will not be re-reviewing it again, I will briefly comment on the changes in the show which lead to similar, but ultimately different, feelings about the conclusion. The show itself is notable for its nuanced and layered narrative, the slick dialogue, and easy chemistry between the two performers. You are constantly, as a spectator, questioning which threads of reality are the true ones, the memories, and the fabrications. The way the piece culminates in this most recent version, I think, makes it easier to wrap one’s head around the performance in its entirety; however, I have to admit to being partial to the original ending that made a singular or universal narrative difficult to pin down.
When I initially saw hometown hero Pearlman’s I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent (and other things you shouldn’t say out loud) at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe I was on jury duty for the Prix Rideau Awards and subsequently did not write a review. Having another chance to see it gives me another opportunity to expand upon my conflicted thoughts about this piece. Overall, it seems that the text itself and the questions that are raised within it are the strongest element to this show, however, the physical performance feels lacking somehow.
The production revolves around questions of sensitivity and political correctness while also examining the levels of appropriate emotional response towards different world crises (i.e. the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide). Is one more entitled to feel more upset than another about a particular issue because they are more directly related to the suffering? Pearlman asks us to consider that perhaps an equalizing entry point into any tragic event is that we are all human.
I wrote down so much from this show. The lines of text are both intelligent and heartfelt. The thoughts that Pearlman articulates are genuine to the contemporary experience where it can sometimes be difficult to express the appropriate amount of feelings towards a social or cultural injustice without stepping on someone’s toes. These insecurities put on stage are not unusual in 2015 where social media is filled with (arguably well-deserved) BuzzFeed videos about the ridiculous and many social faux-pas white people make in front of different ethnic groups. Pearlman puts this into further perspective: what does it actually mean when we say we are really open minded?
While the textual material is certainly thought-provoking and provides an abundance of material for discussion, I can’t help but feel like there is something missing from the performance on stage. I want to suggest that it needs more ‘oomph’ somehow, but that might imply more ‘spectacle’ which is not what I am trying to get at. Perhaps it’s the relation of audience to performer with the addition of the power point presentation on a relatively average sized projection screen that causes my brain to think that it’s in a classroom attending a lecture. It feels almost too intimate of a story to be sitting in such a formal configuration.
The musical dance transitions are a strong reminder of the play’s through line about not caring what other people think about you and to just dance like no one is watching. It is also reinforces the idea that dance and music are generally considered to be the closest things to universal languages. It should be noted that this time around Pearlman is much more pregnant than when she first performed this show in June so the musical dance transitions are significantly (and understandably) more subdued. In any case, the organic nature of these transitions created by Pearlman dancing in a genuine and vulnerable manner seems an odd juxtaposition to the hard materiality of the projection screen and the laptop on stage.
Though there are many moments where the humour in the text relies on the irony the projected text versus what Pearlman is actually saying, when the projection screen is not in use it becomes rather static. It felt as though during those moments I could close my eyes and get the same experience and pleasure from just listening to the text as I would from watching it. Perhaps this is not an overly bad thing, but I only wished that there was something visually on stage that equally matched and balanced the intensity of the text.
Overall, I look forward to the continued development of this piece because the content is certainly worth further exploration. Pearlman’s voice through her playwrighting showcases an interesting intertextuality that I think presents us with a valuable and worthwhile discourse to be had. I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent (and other things you shouldn’t say out loud) is a refined piece that elaborates on the complexities of current cultural and social expectations and etiquette without actually lecturing its audience, despite the way it is currently staged (this is a major victory in itself).
I further look forward to more Encore performances of Fringe favourites as it is an excellent way to see shows that scheduling may have caused you to miss out on or that were just plain sold out. It is also a good means of supporting both the artist and the Fringe, the latter of which hosts a team of people who work tirelessly towards making sure the Festival runs smoothly for artist and patron alike each year. Thus, by attending events like the Fringe Encore patrons are investing in maintaining the quality of future Festivals. Truly a win-win situation.