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 final night of the festival featured only two shows, which were as different from each other as possible. Fortunately, both seemed to be improvements of other night’s shows: Shazam! acts like the more self-aware brother of Flapjacks, while The Gully accomplishes the interpersonal drama so many other productions worked so hard to almost achieve.
Shazam! or Schism On, Eternity by Victoria College Drama Society
Written by Eli Fox and Paul Borchardt, directed by Cassidy Sadler
Starring Maggie Cheung, Alex Treude, and Angela Sun, among others
The second show with a script co-written by Eli Fox, Shazam! is also an absurdist comedy, albeit one with much more focus and strength than the previous night’s. Infused with lemon meringue pie, allusions to the Cold War, and a papal prophesy, there would be little merit in recounting the plot of the play; the strength, anyway, is in the performers – but not necessarily actors – and their execution of the show’s humour. Director Sadler also helps to draw out every inch of comedy, especially the show’s slapstick humour. Despite the cleverness of Shazam! or Schism On, Eternity, the lack of character definition and plot development make it dramatically unfulfilling, though almost always entertaining.
The Gully by UTM Drama Club
Written by Sara Peters, directed by Courtney Keir
Starring Hannah Vanden Boomen and Cameron Grant
Without a doubt the strongest show of the festival from start to finish, The Gulf follows the unlikely relationship between an elderly black man and a young white girl in the American South in ’60s, played with astounding precision by Vanden Boomen and Gran. Vanden Boomen’s ability to play a child, and a child with a foreign accent no less, is particularly extraordinary. Among the other strengths of The Gulf are its lack of reliance on flashbacks, the controlled, consistent development of its characters; and the mind-numbing surprise ending: one of those great theatrical surprises that we know deep inside has been possible all along, even if we never realized it. The silence in the theatre during the last ten minutes of this show were unprecedented during the festival, and further proof that there is not a single creative element that The Gully finds wanting.
Awards of Merit: Jaime Hernandez Lujan of Marianne, Are You Asleep?, Kolwyn McKinstry of In This Life, the ensemble of Flapjacks, Cassidy Sadler of Shazam! or Schism On, Eternity, and the ensemble of The Gully.
President’s Award for Best Production: Marianne, Are You Asleep?
Robert Gill Award for Best Direction: Eilish Waller of Bruised Porcelain
I.A.T.S.E Award for Technical Achievement: Lindsay Mayer of Shazam! or Schism On, Eternity
Hart House Theatre Award for Best Performance: the ensemble of Marianne, Are You Asleep?
Robertson Davies Playwriting Award: Jeffrey Kennes of Earth: A Survivor’s Guide to All Things Agricultural
I was surprised three times during the awards ceremony:
- When The Gully won only an award of merit.
- When Flapjacks won anything at all.
- When the ten awards were distributed across seven different plays. This distribution is surprising because in most cases strong directors produce strong actors, who are all drawn to strong scripts. From this a cynic might infer a conscience effort from the adjudicator to be kind to as many productions as possible.