Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Actor's Nightmare and 'Dentity Crisis

by Jim Murchison
It has been a while since I have been part of a college production so I was excited about seeing two clever one act plays at the Algonquin campus. The studio theatre is not easy to find and in fact I was lost for awhile. There were two plays by Christopher Durang at the Studio theatre that night. The first, Actor’s Nightmare followed by ‘Dentity Crisis. They were both wildly irreverent and examined some of our worst neuroses. 
He can’t recall being to a single rehearsal.
George (Alain G. Chauvin) is about to go on stage with no idea of who or what he is playing. He can’t recall being to a single rehearsal.
Chauvin’s clever performance was a strong mix of fear, false bravado, confusion and desperation that struck the right notes consistently. Lighting Designer David Magladry has purposely set spotlights in a manner that makes it difficult to “see the light”. George hilariously struggles to find shifting spotlights that are too small or low to accommodate him. Frantically scrambling for position, he desperately recites every soliloquy he knows.   
His co-stars, Henry Irving (Aiden Reed) and Sarah (Robin Thomas) do a great job in not making things easier for our leading man. George, still trying to figure out if he’s doing Noel Coward or Shakespeare, increases their frustrations. I particularly enjoyed Aiden Reed in his Shakespearean persona where he matched George’s level of angst, silently melting down while George spouted everything but the correct cue.
Only Meg (Patti Vopni) the stage manager offers any consistent support but soon loses patience with George’s lack of preparedness. Her performance transitioned effortlessly from nurturing to gentle reprimand.
Durang’s penultimate scene with Ellen (Lizzie Franklin) as a girl in a garbage can is a non sequitur that seems to interfere with the conclusion of the play. It’s my sole criticism of his writing, but hey maybe I missed something!
...challenges our perceptions of sanity, sexuality and gender.
The second play, ‘Dentity Crisis, set in the family home, challenges our perceptions of sanity, sexuality and gender. Jane (Lizzie Franklin) as the daughter is the only character that is receiving therapy and she appears to be the one least in need of it. Franklin’s strong performance has many moments of silence that require her to appear disengaged yet aware of what is going on. She never loses character or misses her cue which can sometimes be more challenging than speaking on stage. 
Her libidinous mother Edith (Robin Thomas) is in denial about everything. Thomas gives a strong performance as the effervescent but dysfunctional mother who has a rosy outlook about life because she never faces it head on. Her charming performance of Edith’s over the top optimism, reminds me of Catherine O’Hara.
Bubba Vein plays a gender conflicted psychologist named Summers. Vein struggled a bit at times tonight. He had a minor cue glitch and it took him a bit of time to shake the nerves away. We all go through it. It may help him to remember the feeling, if he plays in Actor’s Nightmare some day. 
A woman’s character (Tasha Montgomery) is possibly Summers’ wife, or maybe not?  Nothing is straightforward. Nonetheless, Montgomery in a minor role does a good job portraying a character that adds to the general mayhem of the story line. 
Aaron Lajeunesse is the absurdly chameleonic Robert. He bounces from personality to personality depending on “who” is needed at the time. His performance was a crowd favourite and he played it full throttle.
Both plays were directed by Mary Ellis, a well established actor and teacher. She had fun directing the pieces and it shows. I am sure students will continue to benefit from her enthusiasm, expertise and experience.
I am not sure how many of the students, actors and crew will go on to careers in the theatre, but certainly they have been bit by a bug that will not go away. I hope that many go on to experience but at the very least they are forging great memories and experiences that will serve them well wherever life leads them.
The Durang works will be performed one more time, this evening. 613-727-4723 ext. 5784 Cash at the door only. Adults: $10 Students/Seniors/Theatre Alumni: $8 February 8th - 11th, 2012 7:30pm

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