Thursday night of the 39th annual Elizabeth Boardmore One Act Play Festival gave us three productions. A very diverse evening, we saw two new plays from local playwrights and one that was previously published.
Up first was In The Blood a new tragedy by Colleen Gillis, directed by Todd Hiscock. Again, we find some very interesting staging. The play had multiple scenes in various settings, but the lights and set never changed. Instead, actors sat facing in different directions, and came into the scene when necessary. The clear, always present, rigid lines of the lights were a bit of foreshadowing to the story we were going to see.
The story primarily dealt with Maureen (Josie Sobol) and her brother James (Nick Sobol). He has previously divulged to her that he was gay, and now tells her that he has contracted AIDS. Maureen is a devote Christian and has a hard time dealing with all of this, so she lies to her son, Evan (Thomas Colford), and husband about what’s truly afflicting James, confiding only in her priest (Bruce Cathcart). Eventually, with the loss of James, Maureen loses her faith, and Evan starts to question his. The dialog and the character work was all very well done and well written, but I had a hard time getting through the story itself. It seemed to almost have too many issues, so as a result, many got glossed over. Beyond homosexuality, AIDS, religious beliefs, and loss, we also were given pieces of neglectful parents, alcoholism, heaven/hell, separation and infidelity, etc. all with the Catholic church’s opinion on each of them. It was a lot to take in, and much of it got lost and became just another thing in the lives of this family.
Plus, it included one of my local-theatre pet-peeves—that being talking about how backwards and unforgiving Cape Breton can be. James is treated badly because he’s in Cape Breton. It didn’t really add to the story, as the Catholic church’s opinions already created that conflict. It also never really came up again—it was almost thrown in as a side-remark.
Fortunately, the character work in the script, and the acting of those characters made the play enjoyable to watch. Nick and Josie Sobol were great as the brother and sister. Nick had to go through so many different moods in very short periods of time (ranging from cheerful to angry; drunken-rage to accepting death), that watching him was a treat. Josie’s transition from faithful Catholic to skeptic was so smooth and natural. Through her genuine emotions, and realistic reactions, Josie has, once again, created a completely believable person before our eyes. Thomas Colford had the challenge of portraying the “angsty, questioning teen with issues” without making him cliché. He pulled this off excellently by providing him with both innocence and aggression, both used sparingly at just the right times. Perhaps my favorite character in the story was the priest played by Bruce Cathcart. He was given the difficult challenge of being a churchman who had to console a family who is grieving due to events that the church itself condones. Cathcart showed this struggle to be both helpful and considerate to the family, while at the same time not turning on his faith. This last point seemed to paint the character as the villain of the play, but I didn’t see him that way, purely through Cathcart’s ability to portray him as simply a man doing what he felt was right. Hiscock’s direction of the actors, and the play itself, was great in its simplicity. Basic set, basic lights – just the characters and their story.
The second play, Killer’s Head by Sam Sheppard, was also directed by Todd Hiscock, but it was very different from his first of the evening. This play told us the thoughts of a man just about to be executed (the man—played by Matthew Earhart—sat in the electric chair the whole time), and that’s it. A ten-minute train of thought by this man, aware of his eminent death. The interesting thing is, it never mentioned this fact. He could lament, he could tell his story, he could even tell us about himself, but no. Instead he talked about trucks and horses, comparing the two, mostly. Earhart, in doing this, was very convincing as the man. He never winked or nodded to the audience about his situation. We could plainly see his was in the electric chair, but he never acknowledged it—save one flinch—in his ramblings. His hands were tied to the arms of the chair, his torso tied to the chair, the cap was pulled onto his head, and he was blindfolded, but he just came across as a guy talking to people at the bus stop. The inability to move, gesture, or even see the audience you are talking to, would be a great challenge to any actor, and Earhart did it with a great display of skill. I hope he gets a deserved good mark on it, as it was his directed study.
The final play for the evening was a pleasant surprise. Going into Fort Petrie, written and directed by Darren Andrea, I had no idea what was going to happen. All I knew was it was a play set in Cape Breton, during WW2, in Fort Petrie. I expected a tragedy or a history piece—something along those lines. What I saw was a very fun, very entertaining take on a piece of our history. Andrea captured the attitudes of the soldiers stationed at Fort Petrie quite well (the attitude in this case being “this is kinda pointless, and very uncomfortable”). The boys stationed there are just guys who want to help and got stuck with a crappy job. Even the higher-ups don’t seem to care too much. All of this creates the major plot point of the story: the boys need a new table as theirs (matching their uniforms, boots, combat gear, and weapons) is old and falling apart. After a false alarm, they get one, play ends, as it began, with a drink.
The whole thing reminded me very much of Hogan’s Heroes—if Hogan’s Heroes was set in Cape Breton.
The acting in this play was an excellent showing of a great ensemble. Each player had his part to play. Darren Andrea acting as the Sargeant, trying to keep control; Malcolm Dileskie as the somehow even more unlucky soldier in a room full unlucky soldiers; Greg Woodford as the Major who seems to have no real authority over this group and would rather hang out with them than command them. Everyone did a great job with their part of the big picture; no one upstaging, though you can see they all gave it their all. It is hard, after all, to come across as relaxed and somewhat lazy when you just rushed to build a set, and have only one shot at pulling off a very clever script.
By the way, the set was great for this one. It fully captured the mood, the time, and its inhabitants. Nothing was unnecessary and it all added to the feel of the play. Another playwright and myself both commented on how we could never make a set look that nice, no matter how much we tried.
Another great night of theatre. I look forward to the final evening of the festival, and I can tell many awards on that night will go to those involved in these plays.