Each year, the University of Toronto Drama Coalition sponsors a festival at Hart House Theatre for students from each college to write, produce, direct, and star in original plays. Those plays are performed once each and judged by an expert in the field who will name, at the festival’s conclusion, its winners and losers. This year, blogUT will be attending and reporting on all of the plays at the 2012 U of T Drama Festival and letting you know how your college matches up to others in the dramatic arts.February 17
Hart House Players: Mannequin Ensemble by Reg Matson, directed by Carter West
The first play in the festival to veer off the course of naturalism, Mannequin Ensemble was set in a farcical world of murderous servants, spontaneous duels, and arrogantly oblivious noblemen. The play revolved around the attempts of a man of the upper class to solve a murder in his manor while also marrying his unfaithful fiancé, but he and his people were thwarted at every turn by absurd, hilarious twists, often of their own making. Though the piece relied heavily on music and scene changes that lasted just a tad too long, the jokes were witty and their deliveries spot-on. The same cannot be said for the slapstick humour which was, it seems, intentionally weak to add to the caricature, but which actually just made the two-dimensional characters and their one-dimensional acting seem even lazier. Despite this, Mannequin Ensemble garnered more laughs from the audience than any other play thus far, and its The-Maids-meets-Big-Comfy-Couch humour did make for good farce, though of whom it is never certain. Stiff competition from both drama and other comedies makes Mannequin Ensemble‘s awards prospectives look bleak.
St Michael’s College: The Long Run, written and directed by Rachel Ganz
If the nonsensical synopsis in the programme wasn’t indication enough that The Long Run needed more time in the workshop, the production certainly was. Upon realizing that their mother had left, maybe for good, three siblings of indeterminate ages argued over what they’d do after they’d been deserted by both of their parents. The premise was fascinating but its execution was not, and the result was one full act of shouting, monologues overflowing with awkward exposition, failed lighting cues, and more shouting. In addition to being the first play in the festival in which actors routinely restarted their lines after getting them wrong, The Long Run also featured the worst performances I’ve ever seen on Hart House Theatre’s stage. This is especially true of poor John Debono, who seemed convinced that solely volume conveyed emotion. A few interesting monologues about running away and what it means to face one’s problems gave this piece somewhat of a redemptive quality toward the end, but could not save it from the rest of itself. All-together bad acting, writing, and direction make The Long Run an unlikely candidate for any festival awards.
New College: Thick Blood, written and directed by William Wong
Though not the only entry in the festival to feature gay themes, Thick Blood was certainly the one that came closest to being itself homophobic, however unintentionally. It concerned two siblings who discovered a queer-themed magazine in their closeted brother’s sock drawer and, accompanied by a friend, squabbled for an inordinate period of time about what they insisted to be a big deal. A really, really, really, big deal. That seemed to be the central theme of Thick Blood - that having a gay brother is the most significant thing that can ever happen to anyone ever, and that being the sibling of a possibly gay man is incredibly stressful and difficult. Though it may have intended to shine light on negative attitudes of siblings towards queer members of their families, histrionic acting by the cast of three and the absence of any defense for the gay brother seemed to suggest that these siblings were justified in their offensive concerns over their brother’s change/life/future/soul. The script even went so far as to suggest that the pressures which may make a person homophobic are equatable to those which might make a person gay. Thick Blood ends with a recitation of a part of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, as if to suggest that either being gay or reacting to a gay brother is somehow a life-changing decision comparable to that alluded to in Frost’s poem. Even if my interpretation is on the pessimistic side, Thick Blood‘s excessive running time in comparison to the material make it difficult to be kind, and the constant references to the dialogue “going nowhere”, as if acknowledging it made it okay, did nothing to mend that. A circular script and over-reactive cast make Thick Blood an unlikely choice for any of the festival’s awards.