10 June 2017
The White show and Black Show are a two parts of the four-part series in InspiraTO festival’s ten-minute play festival, the largest ten-minute play festival in Canada. Indeed, there is something really unique about writing a well-rounded narrative in ten minutes. I had the fortune of watching The White Show and The Black Show, both of which feature emerging writers and performers attempt to catch and hold your attention for 10 minutes.
Despite the thematic and artistic variety of the work the through-lines were interesting and well curated. All ten-minute plays had been tasked to costume themselves according to their title. White for the white show; black for the black. Thematically, The Black Show involved some kind of parental relationship. The common theme in The White Show was around childhood and growing up.
As I saw 12 plays over the course of 2 hours, I’ll give very brief review for each work. Overall, it was incredibly enjoyable to observe the arc of a ten-minute show, complete with their third act revels, and moment-in-time energy.
THE WHITE SHOW
It’s Time is a clever bit of writing about growing up and friendship. The performers were a little green, but completely charming, and a good fit for the script. It has an almost Shakespearean feel to the characters, and how the story unfolds. This is a lovely, thoughtful piece of theatre.
A Test Of Mettle
While this script has the occasional strong line— and certainly dedicated performers— there was much that left me confused at the intention and overall tone of the piece. First, the poetic language, while beautiful, was at times at odds with the realist style the playwright had established. This made lines seem absurd, out of place and at times cliché. Continuing, the script called for a white performer who believed they were a black man. The performer in question used an affected black voice, which did nothing to help their basic enunciation, and did a lot to alienate me as an audience member. Having a white character who thinks they are a black man seemed to have nothing to do with the narrative of the play. As such, I have serious concerns about why this was included in the script. If this was meant to be funny, it was not. If it was a statement on poverty, suggesting that lower income or homeless folks are oppressed in a similar way to black people (“We’re an equal opportunity shitty zone,” the character tells us), it lacked the nuance to make that statement palpable. Ultimately, it was not clear what this narrative around race and identity politics had to do with the unlikely confrontation between a man who just lost his father, and a young man on the streets. Race becomes a strange stepping stone, a awkward plot point in the narrative arc, that at best runs the risk of alienating your audience and at worst is extremely insensitive. Despite the interesting moments in this short piece, this strange character choice ultimately upstaged the rest of the play.
Two 17 year olds, children of divorce, at the cusp of adulthood, discuss their love of Toy Story 3 and hook up apps. Lovely, honest performers brought a raw, simple energy to the stage. The casting here was bang on. The reveal in this piece was truly unexpected and delightfully gruesome. J. Joseph Cox has delivered a delightful, heart-warming script, and Amanda Custodio and Mackenzie Burton have brought it to life. Its overs a glimpse of that sometimes funny, sometimes painful transition from childhood into adulthood.
Over the Moon
Poetic, lyrical, and engaging, Over the Moon offers a difficult story from a child’s perspective. Without falling into cliché or thinking too much of itself, the play is sweet, sad and haunting, touching on difficult themes of mourning, love and family. Sophia Chapadjiev has done an excellent job, and is a name to look out for as she develops her craft.
An interesting examination of online dating, pretension and unlikely, or mixed connections, Zootopia shows us the first date of two people who met online. It was familiar and interesting, with good performances by Justine Christensen and Subhash Santosh. It was skewed slightly to make the female look like the hero, and I didn’t quite believe the shift the characters made in their relationship (from hatred to admiration), but it was still enjoyable to watch.
By far my favourite play of The White Show, and indeed of the entire evening. Hilarity and horror come together in this experimental, episodic nightmare on adulthood. It had the pace and absurdity of a fever dream, and spoke to many concerns I have as a woman in her late 20s, including maternity, STIs and relationships. It was very over the top, establishing a surrealist tone that was both funny and terrifying. Good writing meets excellent execution in this outrageous piece. It was totally different than any of the other pieces in the white or black series, and left me really impressed with what you can do with 10 minutes. I will definitely be checking out whatever else playwright Anne Flanagan has up her sleeve.
THE BLACK SHOW
I Love You
The themes of this father-son play were interesting and yet poorly executed. The story of the son who is being taught not to say I love you by his emotionally detached father is one I’ve heard before. I’m not sure what new perspective playwright Nina Ki has brought to the conversation. Cam Parkes played a believable Dad, bringing a subtly to the role that was the only notable aspect of this forgettable play.
The conceit of this piece was brilliant: a student in detention realizes she can control time. A very cute story, with some very sweet acting from Ariana Imbirovski. While the script was at times juvenile, over all, I enjoyed watching the story unfold, the characters change, and the twist at the end was unexpected and brought the story to the next level.
Another very creative premise: there is such thing as manchild physciatry, where girlfriends can send their adult boyfriends to grow up and act their age. Satirical in tone, it seemed that the direction missed the mark of this show. Performers hammed it up a little too much: I think that if they played it straight, it would have gotten more laughs, as the premise and writing were all funny enough. Despite this, this play had a sting in its tail; a reveal at the end that as delicious as it was well executed.
Maisie in the Cold
One of the strongest plays in the Black Show series, Maisie in The Cold, by Shannon Murdoch, tells the difficult story of an estranged mother and daughter meeting in the street. Powerful writing comes together with stellar performances to show us this difficult reunion. This was the only play that attempted to show, not tell, and yet even then, there were moments of unneeded exposition, and actors telling us what the characters were felling. That said, deep feelings around family and the past were very relatable and cathartic. This play was my personal favourite in the series, and I look forward to see more of Murdoch’s work.
Mother and Daughter
Another Mother-Daughter story, this one involves the pair looking for an apartment for them both to live in before the daughter’s first year of University. Clearly working class, and with some tragedy in their past, the first section of the play involves many missteps in conversation, making you ask what is left unsaid. It was slow to start, without much payoff, and seemed underdeveloped as a script. I wondered if the playwright was telling a story they knew much about— as a daughter who grew up poor, I found the play skimmed the surface of what is a very unique relationship. That said, I thought Celine Gunton (daughter) brought grace and subtlety to her role.
The Chinese Life Force
Strong performers, and a unique story, The Chinese Life Force, was a nice closer to The Black Show. Two friends— one, a copy writer, and the other a travel journalist— meet to drink and play scrabble. What starts as a fun game turns into a vicious argument on the purpose of language, and the value of ‘good’ writing. The writing was smart and funny, and yet the casual racism and sexism throughout (culminating at the end with on character yelling random things from asian countries), was distancing and irritating. They also pronounced “Malay” wrong. These few skips in what was otherwise a smooth script and performance left a nasty taste in my mouth that cannot be ignored.