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REVIEWS ROUND-UP

The 6th undercurrents festival opened with two sold-out performances. undercurrents runs until February 20th.

The reviews are coming in. This round-up was last updated Friday, February 19 at 1:00pm.

See excerpts below and follow the links provided to the original text.


GETTING TO ROOM TEMPERATURE

Getting to Room Temperature Photo: Jacqui Jensen-Roy

Written & directed by Arthur Milner
Performed by Robert Bockstael

This world premiere sold out on opening night. Closing night (February 20th) may sell out in advance. Two more performances, February 13th and 19th, are more than half sold already.

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Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen: “The provocative one-man show… targets our sense of right and wrong. Milner, through the accessible voice of Bockstael, wraps his questions in warm anecdotes about his family, sprinkles the show with humour, and lovingly depicts his vital, opinionated mother.”

Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: Bockstael controlled the mood of the audience throughout the performance with aplomb, drawing us through humour into the serious emotional business of death and back out the other side.” 

Jennifer Cavanagh, Apartment 613: “The weighty material flows through Robert Bockstael’s seemingly effortless delivery weaving a believable humor with poignant remembrances and effective arguments.”


MOUTHPIECE

Mouthpiece Photo: Brooke Wedlock

Created by Amy Nostbakken & Norah Sadava

Award-winning Mouthpiece gave its Ottawa premiere on Wednesday night and has roused what seems to be the loudest response from critics and audiences alike.

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Ian Huffam, New Ottawa Critics: “Mouthpiece a masterpiece… impeccable… one of the strongest performances I’ve seen in Ottawa.”

Jared Davidson, Apartment 613“The writing is energetic… it makes for what is clearly an extremely demanding play to perform. The degree to which they are deliberate in their motions and tone draws attention to the excellent directing and the enormous talent of these two performers… It is performed absolutely beautifully… Mouthpiece is not to be missed.” 

Curtis Perry, Espace Musique“What Nostbakken and Sadava have created and performed is a sophisticated, nuanced, complex portrait of the woman’s voice… Kept me rapt and engaged… Near the end, one particular segment of physical theatre left me deeply affected. I can’t spoil it… Mouthpiece is the kind of theatre that differentiates art from entertainment with shocking clarity.”

Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen: “…by turns wrenchingly beautiful and painful… The show is funny, shrewd, constantly evolving… Remarkable sound design… This show says important things.”

Brendan McNally, Ottawa Tonite:  “…a pulsing, energetic and physical piece of theatre that is thoroughly absorbing and entertaining…”

Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: “Mouthpiece is a wonderful embodiment of the contradictory multitude of voices that speak through our society and inside our own heads; it makes for a transcendent experience that hits you straight in the guts on every level of meaning.”

Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “Mouthpiece was the highlight of undercurrents… Impeccable timing and physicality… Incredible synchronicity… If you don’t see anything else, see this!”


LISTEN TO ME

Listen to Me Photo: Brie McFarlane

Created by Stephanie Henderson
Directed by Stephanie Henderson & Catherine Ballachey

There are only eight tickets available per performance of this interactive 30 minute show. We like to think it would be selling out, anyways! Wednesday and Thursday night performances both sold out.

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Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: “Listen to Me is an odd show… By its very nature, no two people will have the same experience… But this show is not improv… It’s hard to know which parts of my interactions with near-total strangers were real, and which were planned.”

Ian Huffam, New Ottawa Critics: “…the spectator must become an active participant rather than sit back and let the performer’s art wash over them. A daunting definition, but the interactive Listen to Me cleverly uses an entirely different paradigm of performance—speed dating—in order to give a tight framework in which participants/performers still have great freedom. Or do they?”

Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “Listen to Me… is one of the more unique and personally interactive performances of the festival, so if you’re eager to buy one of the eight available tickets per performance, just be sure that you’re comfortable with some one-on-one face time with the participating actors.”

Diane Lachappelle, Apartment 613: “The challenge in reviewing such a play is that it is so personal… so in a way, you’re kind of reviewing yourself. Frankly, I bombed…. It was an interesting exercise and overall, I enjoyed it… This night may have been a little skewed as I would have gone out with any of the adorable, articulate, freshly scrubbed actors, which I doubt happens at real speed dating.”


Monstrous, or,
The Miscegenation Advantage

Monstrous Photo: Chris Snow

Written & performed by Sarah Waisvisz
Directed by Eleanor Crowder

The second world premiere of undercurrents’ opening weekend. Monstrous is a show we’ve been waiting for an so curious about since Sarah Waisvisz gave a reading of the script-in-progress at the 2015 undercurrents festival.

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Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: “This show is all foray… while its politics can’t be faulted, disputed, or dismissed…”

Jennifer Cavanagh, Apartment 613: Waisvisz dynamic energy… Waivisz’s multilingual talents and her choice of French-language music serve this production well emphasizing the international scope… gives an authenticity to this self-reflective production… remarkable silhouetted shadow-play on evocative projections…” 

Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen:  “All this is a far cry from her very good show about the long reach of transnational hatred ILoveOrangeAndHateThePort which was part of 2014’s Extremely Short New Play Festival. This time out, she’s simply too conscious of herself…”

Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “I love this style, with its emphasis on the craft of storytelling… it reminded me a lot of a 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival show, I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent… After the fact, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Waisvisz’s dramaturg was Emily Pearlman, the creator of that memorable Fringe performance.”

Ian Huffam, New Ottawa Critics: “This show raises issues instead of questions and because of this it becomes impossible to provide answers… What is clear is how personal the project is to creator/playwright Sarah Waisvisz.”

Kat Fournier, Capital Critics’ Circle: “Social provocation… Given the subject matter, if the play disorients its audience, it is arguably intentional… In fact, Waisvisz goes so far as to point the lens back at the audience, anticipating their apathy to her story. It’s a call to action; Monstrous urges its audience to recognize this apathy as a remnant of a colonial history.”


Forstner & FIllister

Forstner & Fillister Photo: Barbara Havrot

Created & performed by Will Somers & David Benedict Brown
Directed by Melanie Karin Brown

Comedy duo Forstner & Fillister blew the dust off their 2014 Fresh Meat: DIY Theatre Fest runaway hit, Forstner & Fillister Present: Forstner & Fillister In: Forstner & Fillister.

The undercurrents reviews say this show has only gotten better.

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Jared Davidson, Apartment 613: “The title of this play is Forstner and Fillister Present: Forstner and Fillister in: Forstner and Fillister. If that makes you laugh, you will like this play. If the use of punctuation concerns you, you’ll probably still like this play. This is a play that it’s hard not to like… It’s a joy to watch.”

Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “Just try and keep a straight face… [they will] have anyone laughing by the end of it.”


Moonlodge


Moonlodge Photo courtesy of National Arts Centre English Theatre

Created by Margo Kane
Performed by Paula-Jean Prudat
Directed by Corey Payette

Performance at the NAC 4th Stage

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Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen: Prudat gives us a rich, captivating Agnes. Armed with only a suitcase, a drum, and serious acting chops… Prudat infuses Kane’s mix of storytelling, dance and ritual with her own brand of verve.”

Barbara Popel, Apartment 613: “Although a work-in-progress, there is much to recommend Moonlodge… looks promising.”


PARTICLE

Particle Photo: Stéphanie Godin

Created by Kristina Watt & Martha Ross
Performed by Kristina Watt
Directed by Martha Ross

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Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: “Kristina Watt was captivating… If you can embrace confusion as a device by which you can explore your own understanding of theatre… you won’t be disappointed.” 

Brian Carroll, Apartment 613: “Particle has a pedigree… The audience certainly found many reasons to laugh: academic malapropisms, silly disguises, stilted movements, out-of-sync multimedia. But the darker side of the show didn’t always connect with the audience.”

Kat Fournier, Capital Critics’ Circle: “…cleverly conceptualized, metatheatrical production… There’s a complex balance between what’s real and what’s not that Particle manages to capture, a credit to director Martha Ross.”

Ian Huffam, New Ottawa Critics: “Every now and then, I see a show that completely baffles me… Interesting and intense in its theatricality…”


A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR

Written by Rachel Blair
Performed by Rachel Blair & Blue Bigwood-Mallin
Directed by David Matheson

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A Man Walks Into A Bar Photo: Tanja Tiziana

Wes Babcock, New Ottawa Critics: “Excellent… The performers are solid… Really poignant… A powerful meta-drama… the show embodies an excellent examination of the cultural discourse of our moment, and is one of the best at undercurrents.”

Diane Lachapelle, Apartment 613: “Strong writing and outstanding performances… My reaction was visceral and it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.”

Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “Wonderful performances from both actors… This deservedly ranks quite high in my to-watch rating, both for how well the actors embrace their roles and for the ideas being brought forth.”

Kat Fournier, Capital Critics’ Circle: A Man Walks Into A Bar does a lot of things right… Wields humour like a weapon… Palpable chemistry on stage. A worthwhile trip to the theatre for this affecting production.”

Brendan McNally, Ottawa Tonite: “A brilliant and poignant piece of theatre…”

Maja Stefanovska, Capital Critics’ Circle: “Well-written, funny, and well-performed… Blair has great comedic timing and her delivery is spot on and her acting range is impressive… This is a must-see production…”


MACBETH MUET

Macbeth Muet Photo: La Fille du Laitier

Created by Jon Lachlan-Stewart & Marie Hélène Bélanger
Performed by Jeremy Francoeur & Clara Prévost
Production Design by

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Joseph Hutt, On Stage Ottawa: “Without using a single word from the original script, the silent actors… present a visceral re-imagining of Macbeth… Inventive prop active… You may also want to be aware that there is a splash zone in this performance. With the amount of fake blood and broken eggs involved in this performance—and trust me when I say it’s more than you’re probably expecting… I highly recommend…”

Brian Carroll, Apartment 613: “This is the silliest production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen. And it is well-crafted silliness.” 


Q&A: Arthur Milner

Photo Credit: Jacqui Jensen-Roy

One of Ottawa’s most prolific playwrights, Arthur Milner‘s new play, Getting to Room Temperature (read synopsis) brings valuable discussion and a healthy dose of play to a heavy issue.

Getting to Room Temperature has its world premiere at undercurrents on February 10th, and can also be caught on the 13th, 19th and 20th.

Why the choice to cast another actor for an autobiographical piece?

Arthur Milner: The original idea was for me to perform the piece, but I chickened out. I used to act a long time ago, but was never comfortable and had trouble remembering lines, so the idea of learning a one-person 75-minute show terrified me. And then I thought, a good actor would do it better than me anyway. And Robert Bockstael wanted to do it and he’s a great actor — and he’s known me a long time and he knew my mother, too.

Who in Ottawa do you want to see Getting to Room Temperature?

As we say in our ads, “For anyone who will die or knows someone who will.” It’s about something every single person does. And it’s funny, too. I guess it’s not of the most direct interest to people in their 50s or 60s with elderly parents. But really, we all know people in their 80s these days. 20-year-olds have really liked it.

As a deadline looms for Parliament to pass legislation re: assisted suicide – what message do you have for our MPs?

Message 1: Come see Getting to Room Temperature
Message 2: Show a little courage.
Message 3: Trust your constituents.

Q&A: Sarah WaisvIsz

Photo: Christopher Snow

Playwright and performer Sarah Waisvisz was born in Europe to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-racial family. Monstrous, or, The Miscegenation Advantage (read synopsis) is the play she wrote concurrently with her doctorate.

Monstrous is a world premiere, and can be seen every Thursday and Saturday of undercurrents.

Did your Ph.D. supervisor know you were working on Monstrous?

Sarah Waisvisz: I did not tell my Ph.D. supervisor I was working on Monstrous until the dissertation was nearly finished. When I submitted a draft of the entire dissertation to my supervisor, I included a prologue and an epilogue written in a personal voice. The writing read as prose but I knew, whether or not the pieces would make it into the final copy of the formal dissertation, that that writing was just waiting to be theatricalized, that it was the skeleton for a new work for the theatre…

The question of whether or not to include those prose pieces in the final dissertation led to a major debate by the dissertation committee. I knew then that what I had written had relevance, and sharp teeth, and I promised myself then and there I would write a script once I had defended the dissertation and graduated.

How does your academia influence your art? Or vice versa.

As an academic I am considered to be very creative and artistic, and as an artist I am considered to be very intellectual and academic… so in some ways there is a real marriage between the two areas.

The more complex answer is that I am, fundamentally, and in all cases a storyteller and a word-smith who is interested in stories, ethics, and the emotional and spiritual experience of people and communities.

In your description of Monstrous you put quotation marks around “Multicultural” Canadian society… why is that?

When I began working on my Master’s thesis I studied the 1980 “Canadian Multiculturalism Act” and I began to read articles and books by researchers who supported my own feeling that the social concept of “multiculturalism” was simply an ideal that the government wanted to legalize in Canada — but that a legal concept does not always or automatically become normal in general society or by individuals.

Moreover, although we have a legal precedent that asks us to be, or at least to strive to be open and accepting, people have their own personal prejudices, no matter how generous we think we are.

Who in Ottawa do you want to see Monstrous? 

I think that academics will be interested in the show’s tension between the head and the heart, in the protagonist’s very struggle about whether to approach a subject from the intellect or the gut.

I want people interested in questions of heritage and culture to see Monstrous because I think they will be surprised by how complex multiculturalism is for people who live in it.

I want people who identify as immigrants, refugees, and new-Canadians to see Monstrous; ultimately I want people who feel they have always been different or other for whatever reason to see Monstrous, because the show is a gift from me to all these people. It is my offering in honour of all of us who live at the intersection.

 —

Q&A: Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava

Photo: Brooke Wedlock

Following a critically acclaimed, sold-out run in Toronto, and in the midst of tour stops in Dawson City, Whitehorse, and Edmonton, creator/performers Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava chat with us about Mouthpiece (read synopsis).

The two-time Dora Award-winning show (six nominations) makes its Ottawa premiere February 10–13 on the opening weekend of undercurrents. A talkback will follow their February 12 performance.

Have your mothers and grandmothers seen Mouthpiece?

Nostbakken & Sadava: Our mothers both came to Toronto to see Mouthpiece when it premiered, so the two of them actually saw it together. We had obviously warned them in advance about the content and told them it was not written about them, but I think it was very emotionally impactful on them both. Performing the show that night was nerve-racking, but in the end it has opened up conversations that we otherwise might never have had, and the show has evolved our relationships with our mothers in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.

WHAT CAN WE TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THE BATHTUB…

We bought the bathtub on Kijiji from a woman named Elaine in Guelph, who couldn’t fit it into her bathroom. Elain was so lovely that we named the mother in the play after her. The tub’s name is Maax. We treat Maax like our baby. Cleaning it, protecting it, carrying it around, driving it new places in the back of our minivan… We have also spent a lot of time drinking wine and thinking very hard in that tub. We recently acquired a tub out west for our western tour dates. She is our newer baby, so we don’t know her as well. But we are trying not to play favourites.

I read somewhere that you didn’t actually set out to create Mouthpiece? How did Mouthpiece come to be?

In 2012 we started work on a project entitled ‘House on Fire’ that was inspired by the work of poets such as Anne Sexton, Amy Gerstler and Sharon Olds. It was intended to be an exploration of female relationships, of that specific bond women experience whch is at once intimate and violent. Simultaneously unbreakable and unbearable. But as we began to delve into the territory of women in relationship to each other it tore open the fabric of our assumptions about our relationships with ourselves.

Like perfectly placed dominoes, just a couple of days of random events and realizations bumped into each other and our discourse completely changed. We began to think of ourselves differently, about society differently and the conversation transformed into a bigger and messier set of questions. We had to re-evaluate everything we had developed up until that point and were compelled to create Mouthpiece because it felt urgent, pressing and necessary.

It is imperative for us to continue to perform this work now so that we can continue to have that conversation with a diverse group of audiences across Canada. What it is to be a woman, to be a feminist, to be a human being in a very different world that that of our mothers and our grandmothers, and potentially different from the Yukon to Halifax. It is about giving a voice to things that tend to stay un-said, and opening up the space for more truths to be told.

WHO IN OTTAWA WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MOUTHPIECE?

After doing our initial run in Toronto, the feedback we received from audiences was that Mouthpiece offers a narrative that exists but that is often not acknowledged. It exposes a voice that is often muted or left unheard. So playing it in the nations capital feels like a great opportunity to have the policy makers and critical thinkers in the room who can help shed light on one of the underrepresented parts of our population that needs to be given a greater platform, a louder voice in this country.

Reviews of Mouthpiece

“There were some harmonies made by both women that just left me in awe, but the general theme left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable being in the same room as such strong opinions.” Ontario Arts Review

“A deceptively simple revelation about a daughter’s relationship to french fries as it relates to her mother’s relationship to french fries is one of the most incisive comments about contemporary womanhood that I’ve ever heard.” —Kelly Bedard

Q&A: Rachel Blair

Photo by Tanja Tiziana courtesy of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Hot off her show’s run at the Next Stage Theatre Festival (Toronto) we catch up with creator/performer Rachel Blair. The Toronto Star are calling Blair, “without a doubt a writer to watch out for,” and the premiere of her new play A Man Walks Into A Bar (read synopsis) smashed box office record to become the top-selling show in Toronto Fringe Festival history. History.

A Man Walks Into A Bar plays every night February 17–20 on closing weekend of undercurrents. A talkback will follow the February 18 performance.

A Man Walks Into A Bar was a mega hit at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Who didn’t like your show?

Rachel Blair: I don’t know! My intention with the play is to make it polarizing, to give the audience moments to pull apart and debate. I’m sure there are some people who didn’t enjoy some of the arguments I presented or how I presented them, but I’m comfortable with that.

Who, if anyone, is the butt of your joke here?

It’s hard to answer this without giving away information about the piece (and we’ve been pretty fortunate to avoid spoilers), but I will say that while the play does target some pretty toxic behaviours, it’s never been my intention to mock anyone for their opinions, even when they’re opposite to mine.

My goal as a writer is to understand how people form their opinions and to have as much empathy as I can for my characters. There are definitely some male behaviours and privileges that I enjoy satirizing, but I never want to cross over into mockery.

I’ve read the word “political” in a few reviews but none of those have really said what is political about the play. Is A Man Walks Into A Bar a political play?

If reviewers and audiences can watch a play about women’s experiences and label it political, I’m over the moon about that. To me, a “political play” label says that there is an urgency to highlight an issue, to make a statement, to ask the audience to have a reaction. Labeling it as political puts the audience’s opinions at the forefront, not just mine. I feel like more playwrights need to see their work as political, no matter the issue they’re highlighting.

Who in Ottawa do you want to see A Man Walks Into A Bar?

Obviously everyone, but it’s been really great to have young men come see the show in Toronto.

Did Blue audition for his part, or were you writing with him in mind?

Blue auditioned! He had worked with David (our director) before. He’s such a fantastic blend of boyishness and power, something we really required for the part.

Another something alluded to in reviews… What do #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen hashtags have to do with it?

I feel those two hashtags have been really telling about how we talk about women’s issues. When #NotAllMen emerged it was really frustrating to see that instead of some men listening to women’s experiences (sometimes very frightening experiences) they were more concerned with how it reflected on them. #YesAllWomen was simultaneously terrifying and liberating.

It was incredible to watch all of these frustrated women sharing their experiences and seeing that they weren’t alone. They were sharing on a platform where women are regularly harassed and excluded. And yet, anyone following the hashtag couldn’t help but feel heartbroken that these experiences existed in the first place.

When a common connection between women is that they’ve felt unsafe or been harassed or abused, we need more than a hashtag to solve the problem.

Reviews of A Man Walks Into A Bar

“Mansplaining doesn’t get much uglier than in playwright-actress Rachel Blair’s unsettling new comedy.” Torontoist

“Don’t let the feminist label scare you. The play is quite funny…  Proof that feminists do have a sense of humour. Blair is a terrific actor.” Mooney on Theatre

“In all of Fringe, this is the play that’s stirred up the most in me. Anchored by two of the most layered and involving performances I’ve seen in a very long time. See it.” My Entertainment World

“A high bar for the rest of [The 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival]. An excellent script. And it’s highly entertaining to boot.” The Theatre Reader

“Beautiful, smart and biting commentary… darkly funny.” TWISI Theatre Blog

“Blair’s script is richly suggestive, and director David Matheson and the two actors make every look an line reading take on weight. Blair’s server is especially good at saying one thing when she means another.” –NOW Toronto

“Blair has cleverly encapsulated the near-impossibility of telling a personal story at a time when outrage and offence (often conveyed through social media) can so easily derail real, honest conversations… there’s no denying Blair is a writer to watch out for.” –Toronto Star

2016 line-up ANNOUNCEMENT

Monstrous. Photo by Christopher Snow.

The program is online and tickets are now on sale for the 6th annual undercurrents festival.

During a 5 à 7 party at Arts Court this evening, undercurrents curator Patrick Gauthier revealed the winter festival’s 2016 line-up. Nine shows are on the bill—three of which are world premieres.

Produced by Ottawa Fringe, our winter festival shows the best original, contemporary theatre being created in Ottawa and by visiting artists.

Since 2011, undercurrents has brought to stage 12 world premieres. Festival partner and founders GCTC hosted from 2011–2014.