Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: (Montreal) A Quiet Sip of Coffee (WildSide)

Photo by Lily Jamali

When the water is coffee and the prank is the Play
by Chad Dembski

“Hi everybody, remember this is a play”.  This is one the first sentences from the start of AnimalParts creation A Quiet Sip of Coffee. The two writer/performers present themselves to the audience, introduce the premise of the piece but most of all want to remind everyone of what is real and what is not.
The story revolves around a letter written in the summer of 2004 to a fundamentalist 'ex-gay' organization they saw advertised in a weekly newspaper.  As a self-proclaimed 'gay-straight' duo they decided to prank the organization and ask for funds to produce a play.  The letter was answered, a meeting was set up and before they knew it they were not only there to work on their play but also agreed to participate in their camp.  This was a two week intensive Gay conversion therapy camp with boys and men from all over BC, Alberta and Washington State. 

What starts out as a prank gone to the extreme soon turns into a test of of their friendship, trust and commitment to truth with each other. Their proposed play Never Cry Wolfman: a Play with Mask and Song in which the Monster Within is Summarily Defeated is presented in small sections throughout the piece.  It is a British farce of sorts related heavily to the film An American Werewolf in London and using simple paper masks.  The light and silly tone to these early scenes helps show the innocence and fun in which the prank was first hatched to infiltrate this fundamentalist organization. Yet almost instantly the reality of being out in the middle of nowhere with a group of men who all want to be 'cured' of being Gay hits them.
A charismatic leader leads the camp and is not at all what I would have thought of for a Gay conversion camp. He seems to truly care about each member of the camp and spouts more psychological lingo then anything religious.  It is one of the refreshing and exhilarating elements of this astounding piece that had me laughing and excited for each new scene.  From the tender and heartbreaking other characters at the camp all the way to the two alter-ego drama teachers who hilariously play improv. Drama games with the audience, the dynamic in this piece is huge.  

Both Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz are astounding in various roles and as themselves, using years of both traditional and experimental work to their advantage.  While the lo-fi approach to this piece may not be tight enough for some I found the performances so strong I never lost focus.  The range shown in this piece is fantastic and made me thankful for the team at WildSide Festival for taking a chance on this astounding duo from New York City. 

A Quiet Sip of Coffee is at WildSide 

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