Every year undercurrents usually brings back a few artists that have been involved with the festival before, but with Forstner & Fillister comes the only chance this year to see a show that has previously appeared as a work in development in the same setting. Everything you love about the previous undercurrents or even the Fresh Meat version of this show is still totally there, but now in an expanded 70-minute version(!).
Brothers Forstner and Fillister welcome you all to their presentation at the International Industrial Wood Working Conference, where they will show you how to build a dining room table using only traditional woodworking techniques as taught to them by their wood-forward father. Not all is well however, as there appears to be quite the unspoken rivalry between the moody traditionalist Forstner and the more forward-thinking Fillister. Like How to Disappear Completely, Forstner and Fillister explores the philosophical implications of a trade that generally doesn’t occupy the public consciousness, though the artistry inherent in the job is obvious (are we starting to see a new genre of theatre that serves as the spiritual heir to TED talks? I’m beginning to wonder).
What’s really admirable about F&F is their ability to stay entertaining in the moment through their frequent mini-competitions with each other and in so doing maintaining a sense of humour in the same vein as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, while the subtext of the show is actually a thoughtful look into the way traditional notions of masculinity prevent men who have every reason to share themselves with each other from actually doing so. The continued relevance of traditional woodworking in a world where IKEA is increasingly becoming the standard forms a neat analogue to traditional hairy, beer-swilling masculinity becoming only one option for the modern Western man.
While there is something undeniably appealing and romantic about the idea of the craftsman slowly honing his skill over years and creating a beautiful product with his rough, bare hands and minimal tools, in a world with a population of over 7 billion and increasing economic uncertainty there comes a time to accept that things have to move on by necessity. Examining masculinity isn’t a new concept at this point by any means, but what sets this show apart is (spoilers!) its ability to offer a solution where men can understand and sympathize with each other without having to directly talk about their feelings. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing really depends on your own perspectives towards traditional masculinity: it’s completely possible for two guys to emotionally support each other indirectly, but I admit that there usually has to be a certain amount of intimacy between them already for that to really work. Most relationships between men aren’t so ready-made as being literal brothers, but since we are still pretty early in the fight to deconstruct masculinity on wider social level (though socially excellent progress has been made in recognizing the more problematic aspects of traditional masculinity such as sexual entitlement, this show wisely stays away from those particular issues) it’s reassuring for there to be an artistic example of traditionally masculine men coping with their emotional issues even if their perspective doesn’t enjoy the social dominance it once did. At the same time, I acknowledge that a large motivation for deconstructing traditional masculinity is to allow men to do the very thing F&F don’t – directly talking about their feelings without any associated stigma – so depending on how much importance you place on the open discussion, you might be frustrated by the subtlety of this particular angle.
Forstner & Fillister Present: Forstner & Fillister in: Forstner & Fillister is an entertaining hour of woodworking knowledge, one-upmanship, and a timeliness that doesn’t beat you over the head with it. On top of it all, performers Will Somers and David Benedict Brown are just really funny to watch. With all this going for it, F&F is another successful example of “in development” programming at Ottawa theatre festivals coming to fruition.
Forstner & Fillister Present: Forstner & Fillister in: Forstner & Fillister
An F & F Production
Created by David Benedict Brown, Will Somers, and Madeleine Boyes-Manseau
Performed by David Benedict Brown and Will Somers
Directed by Madeleine Boyes-Manseau