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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Theatre Review Prize

Each year ACT awards a theatre review prize to the best review of theatre presented to Greg Doran in his UPEI Theatre Studies course. We are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s prize is Devin MacKinnon. Congratulations Devin.

Distance And Depravity: A review of Close and The Problem

By Devin MacKinnon

On Saturday, March 26th, 2011, I had the pleasure of attending two plays at the PEI
Theatre Festival at the Carrefour L’Isle-Saint-Jean in Charlottetown. The festival was divided
into two sections: a section for children and a section for more mature audiences. Close, written
and directed by UPEI student Dylan Riley, was the first play in the “mature” section. The play is about a young couple named Patrick (Ben Hartley) and Michelle (Toni Timmins). The play starts
with Patrick gazing out the window, commenting on the clouds, while Michelle is more
concerned about what he is going to wear to an engagement that they are scheduled to attend.
Suddenly, Michelle gets a phone call and learns that her grandfather has passed away. Upon
hearing the news, Michelle begins to tell Patrick about the few, unpleasant memories she has of
her grandfather. During this time, Patrick says very little, while trying to be as supportive as he
can. In the end, the couple is even further apart emotionally than they were when the play began.

The premise of the show was heartbreaking, and the irony of the title was not lost on any
members of the audience. At times, I found myself captivated with what was going on, and there
was a very intense atmosphere throughout the theatre. However, the play failed to keep me
captivated for the entirety of its run. The lack of physicality made the show seem very
monotonous. Both members of the cast were seated for more than half of the play, and they had
very little to do. The set consisted of nothing more than a table and a couch, while the extra
space of the theatre was hardly used. Moreover, while the emotional performance delivered by
Timmons was excellent, her lack of volume and projection made listening to her a struggle.
Hartley played the role of the desperate boyfriend extremely well, and I found him to be the
more sympathetic character of the two; however, he seemed to serve little purpose in the show,
aside from highlighting the irony of the title. He had very few lines, as compared to Timmins,
which made it difficult for me to establish either a connection or conflict between the two
characters. Another thing that took me out of the moment during the run of Close was the
atrocious sound cue about half way through. During a break in one of Timmins’ monologues, the
sound of rain and thunder began to play. The use of this sound cue was very awkward and
uncoordinated because the volume was much too loud at the beginning; furthermore, it seemed
to randomly fade to silence and was not heard again.

Despite these criticisms, I have to say that the show was entertaining and engaging at
times, and it is great to see students like Dylan taking strides to contribute to the PEI Theatre
scene. There were many positive aspects to the show and plenty of things for Dylan, Toni, and
Ben to improve on.

The second show of the evening was called The Problem. It starred real husband and wife
Richard and Marla Haines, and it was directed by Rob Reddin. The play began with an obviously
pregnant woman (Marla) walking on stage to discuss the “problem” (the baby) with her husband,
a professor (Richard). Upon hearing that the baby may not be his, but may belong to a
mysterious black man, the husband confesses to his wife that for the last several years he has
been pretending to go to an evening class twice a week so that he may rush down to their cellar,
disguise himself as a black man, and make love to her. In return, his wife tells him that she knew
all along that her mysterious lover was him, and, after the initial encounter, she has had a
mysterious woman take her place for all of these years. She then goes on to tell her husband that
she has been the “ghetto pass-around” ever since his charade started, so she has no idea who the
father may be. In the end, the audience learns that these are all lies and nothing more than kinky
stories that the couple makes up to fuel their depraved sexual appetite before making love. The
pregnancy is revealed to be nothing more than a balloon, and the couple dashes off stage to the
bedroom.

The Problem was uproariously funny, and it had the crowd in stitches for the duration of
its run. With each twist in the story, I found myself more engaged and fascinated by what was
happening on stage. Despite the fact that the male protagonist was seated for most of the play,
the play seemed very physical thanks to the director’s excellent use of the space and Richard’s
fantastic physical comedy. The real life relationship between the two characters gave the show
an interesting dynamic, so the connection between the two was genuine.

However, the mood of the show failed to match the audience’s reaction at times. There
were dull moments in the show where it felt as if the couple was simply going through the
motions. Marla struggled to match the projection and volume consistently delivered by Richard,
and the pace of the show was too fast. It felt as if the actors simply wanted to get the show over
with, and there were very few pauses for laughter.

On the whole, I enjoyed my evening at the PEI Theatre Festival. Both shows I had the
pleasure of taking in were excellent in their own respective ways, and I highly recommend any
theatre lover to check out next year’s festival.

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