Nextfest's theatrical offerings aren't quite as abundant as in previous years—just six mainstage shows, not counting playreadings or the high school series—but run a full spectrum of ideas, from based-on-truth shock to Weezer-inspired sketch comedy to the inception of a legendary work of art.
That said, two productions didn't open before Vue's publication deadline: absent from this page of reviews are write-ups of Subterranean and Gone, both of which play at the Old Cycle Building on 118 Ave, and both of which will see reviews appear on vueweekly.com as quickly as we can get them up there. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the other two-thirds of the festival's stagework at the Roxy.
Reviews by Paul Blinov (PB), Garth Paulson (GP), Mel Priestley (MP).
Sat, Jun 11 (9 pm)
Sun, Jun 12 (8:30 pm)
Directed by Ben Janko
The twisted, circular power dynamic at the heart of Ease-ridden—a young couple trapped in a cycle of unhappiness with each other, yet seemingly terrified to step foot outside, who receive a visit from an old, controlling friend that only heightens their unease—is a compelling one, but this production is a bit thick and unclear in how it frames that idea: on a quite wonderfully burnt-out set—like the living room of some old bombed-out building was reclaimed by hoarders—the dialogue runs itself in strange, inert circles, while shifts in tone and scene play out in almost absurdist fashion, yet not so much so as to capture that particular horror, either. It could use some grounding to pump the blood of the dynamic tension its trying to capture. (PB)
Thu, Jun 9 (8 pm), Sat, Jun 11 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Jon Lachlan Stewart
Guernica begins in near total blackness with Pablo Picasso lighting his path with a single flashlight as he slowly takes the stage. He then fumbles about his studio in the dark, jumping at mysterious noises and breathing heavily. Minutes pass before the first line is spoken. It's an immediately striking way to begin the play, which focuses on the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and the resultant creation of one of Picasso's masterpieces, and wonderfully sets the stage for what follows. Though the interlocking stories of the townsfolk who come to be immortalized in the painting can occasionally be too ephemeral and the actors at times emote too exuberantly, the play's use of lighting and complex stage direction is incredibly effective. (GP)
My Name is Jonas
Thu, Jun 9 (9 pm); Sat, Jun 11 (6 pm);
Sun, Jun 12 (6 pm)
A new sketch comedy troupe comprised of Rapid Fire Theatre members, My Name is Jonas claims to be inspired by geek-rock gods Weezer. The connection manifests as three lovable losers in a fairly standard set up: two guys (Kory Mathewson and Colin Matty) and a girl (Amy Shostak) are roommates; both guys want the girl but she doesn't want either of them.
These scenes are interspersed with a variety of sketches that, as indicated by the stage design of a couch, a remote control and a bowl of cheesies, play out like channel surfing.
It's the scenes that take the performers fully out of character that really showcase each of their talents—the 18th-century literature bit and the Onion News Network-esque newsroom are particularly great. When they're playing the mundane, the scenes tend to be, well, mundane. With a little more focus and perhaps a shift in their organizing principle, this new group could do some good things. (MP)
Fri, Jun 10 (6:30 pm)
Directed by Andrew Ritchie
Pushed is an exercise in contradictions. The cheerily bland opening presents two pregnant ladies—one 30 years old (Mary Hulbert), the other 19 (Andrea Rankin)—who are suddenly interrupted by burst of unexpected violence. From there the tension escalates to a nigh-unbearable level, and yet it also manages to simultaneously draw genuine laughter, in spite of (because of?) the ghoulish events.
Hulbert is fantastic as the deeply disturbed Amelia, who bluntly presents an appalling alternative to the standard choices for an unwanted pregnancy. It seems ludicrous because it certainly is, and yet both the characters and audience become wholly entangled in a situation that has no possible hope of a happy ending, or even a resolution—and indeed, this is exactly where you're left: dangling on the cusp of atrocity.
Pushed is a dark gem, and one that could potentially mark a prosperous future for this young playwright. (MP)