Jen Quinn organizes February’s third annual Shorstanding Festival, giving local artists the opportunity to present an amuse-bouche of new works, at the Freestanding Room. The final showing of Lineup C, on the Sunday afternoon following Nuit Blanche, attracted a warm and open crowd.
For this year’s festival, Quinn decides to continue the alphabet by giving us lineups, C, D, and E, as well as a few one-offs. One of the festival’s strengths is the unpretentious environment it fosters. The intimacy of the space allows the feeling of family to instill itself before the lights come down. Whether it’s someone offering tea or observing a woman knitting in the corner, it’s as though you’re in the living room waiting to see what the kids have prepared for this year’s reunion.
Kenny Streule hosts and tells stories from his past as each group occupies the space with props and set.
First up is a reading from City Boy, a play by Kenny Streule, titled for a nickname given to him by his parents. Streule tells of always being told to “write what you know,” which inspired his hosting to consist of stories from his life in the country. The excerpt from City Boy opens with sibling rivalry as a family reunites in the home they grew up in for Michael’s wedding. Michael (Kenny Streule) forgets to pick his brother (Kevin Black) up from the bus stop causing him to walk up to the house in -30 weather. The boys’ father (Len Richman) and Michael’s fiancée, Kate (Carolanne Martin), chime in as conflict managers, for now.
Apprendre à nager presented by Bazooka Theatre is the staged-reading of a French translation by Dominique Sénecal, originally in English by Brie Wittman. This short piece feels complete, despite the actors being on book, as we observe a man and his son at a bus stop, when a seemingly homeless man appears unwell. The open hearted little boy’s want to help juxtaposes the father’s material concentration on his watch collection, while advocating the homeless man as undeserving of aid. The piece will be presented in the fall in the original English version, Swimming Lesson, with the same actors.
Before intermission, Jacqueline van de Geer presents us with her solo work-in-progress, Hysteria! The piece is loosely inspired by The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and van de Geer’s learnings of her mother’s sufferings with postpartum depression, and European fairy-tales. With music and projections, van de Geer creates worlds that she easily moves in, out of, and through. She remains grounded in her performance even while her character embarks in hysteria. The piece opens with a dress, like that for a christening, hanging over the center of the space. In her performance, she manages to get the audience to breathe together, with her, audibly.
After intermission, we have a second excerpt read from City Boy. Streule returns with his band of actors with a scene from Act Two. Now, the conflict shifts to between the fiancés, Kate and Michael. Kate wants to move on to bigger things, new adventures, while Michael hopes to stay in the house he grew up in, leaving little room for discussion.
Following the reading was Pie(lot) Fragmented, co-created by Stefanie Lynn Buxton and performed by Roy Lloyd Whybro. This medley of texts by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and playwright, Sam Shepard is accompanied by songs by Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, and many others. Streule introduces this part of a longer work by notifying us not to applaud between songs, as well as asks for a scene partner for Roy, yes, a volunteer. After some hesitation, a brave soul self-sacrifices and disappears backstage to where he receives instruction, while Streule keeps talking to bide the time. Whybro begins by opening a box of Crows black licorice, placing it into a bowl, and passing it around with the words: “I figured that’s all I have to offer, so…” To go back to the family feel of Freestanding for a second, this piece was like your uncle pulling out his guitar for song-time, but meaning business, in a fun way.
Have You Seen My Monster?, written and directed by Sterling Mawhinney feels the most “theatre” of the lineup, however you interpret that. Joy (Eva Petris) and Grace (Sylvia Stewart) are two friends who get together for drinks with a very ‘country club’ attitude. What they meet about takes the audience on twists and turns for how people can seek personal revenge from the stance of their personal truths. When Joy and Grace’s realities overlap, are they still friends? Were they ever?
Théâtre cent bon sens’s À tout prix hilariously has people at the edge of their seats. The scenario is simply three men in a Canada Post office and one package. A man neglects picking up the parcel for three weeks, then worries about how to get it home. A second man claims to have a gambling issue, and since neither of them knows what’s in the box, he offers to buy the parcel. The third guy, the Canada Post clerk, just wants to close up shop. This setup takes us in circles as we see how the human mind can be manipulated. Pure comedy with some twisted philosophy. Having them close the afternoon, a wise move on Quinn’s part, guarantees a high energy finish to a two and a half hour lineup.