The University of Toronto Drama Festival is an annual competition of student-written and -directed plays at Hart House Theatre. This year, blogUT is pleased to provide reviews and critiques of each show for your elucidation and entertainment.
The penultimate night’s performances departed abruptly from the trend of tragicomedy, instead offering one dedicated drama, one dedicated comedy, and only one light drama. Interestingly, all three shows dealt with the relationships between writing and life, leaving one to wonder if maybe UofT English classes aren’t a tad one-note.
In This Life by Hart House Players
Written by Jessica Ng, directed by Rebecca Ballarin.
Starring Kolwyn McKinstry and Daniel Kim, among others.
The first few minutes of In This Life‘s single continuous scene set up the possibility for intrigue, drama, and profundity, and the remaining hour or so trudge slowly towards them. Though there isn’t a single moment of this play, framed as a conversation between a therapist and his reluctant new client, that is necessarily redundant, it can be told much more quickly and directly. Director Ballarin’s use of video in the background in lieu of scene-change flashbacks is a pleasant surprise; unfortunately the same cannot be said for her staging, which renders hero Griff and his therapist faceless to a third of the theatre. Ng’s plot is a bit of a cliche - a lower-class boy must be “cracked” by a skilled therapist into revealing his true feelings – but the real problem is how slowly it gets to where it’s going. By the five-minute mark we know Griff, played with a moving tenderness by McKinstry, is a hustler and has HIV; now we just need to marinade in mundane dialogue as In This Life catches up to us.
Flapjacks by Trinity College Drama Society
Written and directed by Eli Fox & Raphael Elkabas-Besnard.
Starring Willa Cowan, Duncan Derry, and Benj Draper, among others.
At the end of Flapjacks, at the end of what I counted as its fifth act, I turned to the lady next to me and offered her a fresh croissant from by backpack to hurl at the stage. It isn’t dramatically bad, per se, as much as it is insulting to an audience who has committed to seeing it through in its entirety, even after it stops being funny or clever in the third of many, many, many scenes. The plot is unrecountable – suffice to say its ad nasuseum use of absurd humour and story make any sort of synopsis incomplete of both the events and the extent to which they made me want to claw first mine, and then the creators’, eyes out. The cast’s only major accomplishment is memorizing all of their plentiful lines and not walking out mid-way; but then one has to wonder if that makes them accomplices in this theatrical misdemeanour. If anyone involved in the show is reading this: we get that you think it’s funny, we get that you think you have some sort of clever message about stories and reality, but &%$@, man, you do not need to keep telling us until 10:00PM. &%$@!
The Cafe Play by New Faces
Written by Kaitlyn Uniacke, directed by Alyssa Obrigewitsch.
Featuring an ensemble cast including Kaitlyn Uniacke and Atakan Esen.
An enjoyable change of pace from plays that have been mostly either gratuitously comedic or violently tragic, The Cafe Play is a simple set of three concurrent conversations about life, art, and love. There’s nothing particularly wowing or dismal with Uniacke’s script or Obrigewitsch’s direction, nor are any performers outside the average range. The ultimate limitations to the show seem to be its strengths, as well: by focusing on three isolated sets of characters and conversations, none can properly develop over the course of the act; the exciting lives of the characters – actors, TV writers, publishers – make their performances by student actors seem insincere and contrived. Fortunately, a pleasant pacing and lack of reliance on any sort of schtick or cheap sustaining metaphor make The Cafe Play light, entertaining, and enjoyable, if not profound or brilliant.