Okay, so it’s been a week, or maybe more, depending on when I actually get this thing done. And I know, I saw the festival on its last day anyways, so a timely review wasn’t exactly crucial. But I still feel silly for waiting so long, especially since let’s face it…this is the kind of thing I live for. And I hope at least one or two of you have been waiting (perhaps even on the edge of your seat) for my take on Ottawa first-ever (and very hopefully not last) FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL!
Due to my increasingly insane work schedule, I was only able to make it out to the final day of this, Ottawa’s latest mini-festival of theatre, at the Pressed Cafe on Gladstone. I was a little sad to be catching only the end of the three day fest, as I’d been pretty stoked when producer and good guy Jonah Allingham first told me about it, not long after this year’s Fringe wrapped up. He had some pretty crafty kids lined up for it at that time, pitching the idea as a sort of DIY festival, at a brand new spot (licensed, of course) where some up’n’coming theatre types could host an evening of their own all-original material in short spurts (approx. 20 minutes apiece). Not seeing a downside to this, and being a big fan of up’n’coming theatre gangsters, I was more than ready when my chance to head out to the fest finally came around. It was last Sunday (my last day off in what looks to be a good long while) after my volunteer shift at the GCTC, making it a good theatre day all ’round.
The Pressed turned out to be a pretty squinky spot for some bare bones theatre, with tasty eats and local beers available all the while. I nabbed a pint and a post on a comfy sofa up front, and settled in for the six-show lineup, emceed all night by local heroes GRIMprov (also one of the performing acts).
Up first was the producer himself, Jonah Allingham of Backpack Theatre with his one-manner SUMMER OF ’34. Continuing in the tradition of his Fringe sleeper hit IN WAVES, ’34 was a slice out of Canadian history. And, like Waves, it was unflinching, stripped-down storytelling style theatre that rather fearlessly leaves its performer and creator utterly exposed on stage.
The story of a down and out drinker who stumbles on a dangerous opportunity to make some quick cash, Jonah switches from drunken revelry to sudden violence to a mad, sweaty intercity bike ride (complete with bike!) in furious flashes, spouting darkly lyrical dialogue all the while. It’s a messy, gritty joy of a show that, along with his initiative in getting this festival underway in the first place, upgrades Jonah in my own estimation to ‘force to be reckoned with’ status. He’s good, and only getting better. A very, very good start.
Following this up were hit Fringe team Dead Unicorn Ink and their latest, CAUTION: DO NOT FEED THE MERMAIDS by Sylvie Recoskie. Toning down their penchant for full-blown puppet-powered production values(seen in pat shows PLAYING DEAD and SPACE MYSTERY…FROM OUTERSPACE!), but still adding a pretty slick gloss to thee show with a few nifty props’n’costumes, the show follows a shy high-schooler (Patrice Ann-Forbes, impressive and loveable in the lead) born with tentacles for arms and getting a predictably rough time of it for her troubles.
She meets up with a vain and vicious mermaid (a fire-haired Sylvie Recoskie, making a pretty fetching sea creature indeed…yow!), as well as striking up an unlikely romance with a thick fellow student (Mike Doiron, getting good laffs out of his dimwitted character). It’s a darkly funny bit of fantasy fluff, putting a nice classic mermaid twist on the trials of teenage living. But I gotta give this one to Patrice, who really shines throughout. Very nice stuff.
Show #3 for the evening were local fav’rits May Can Theatre and another brand new piece, DUSK AND DAWN by Tony Adams. Starring fellow co-founder Cory Thibert, and the amazing Madeleine Boyes-Manseau as a deer and an owl, respectively, who form an unlikely pairing in the forest. Aided by musical accompaniment from splendidly unitarded director Adams, the show continues May Can’s streak of fun, thoughtful shows…a lot of heart, a heaping helping of nature, and a dash of heartbreak.
Not to mention the performances…Mado Manseau is always a joy to watch on stage (didja see OPEN COUPLE? Fucking stellar.) and this show is no different. And Cory Thibert makes a shockingly sweet baby deer! Who knew? I’m forgetting right now the name of the gal who played the puppet-gopher (don’t have my program with me, sorry!) but she was mighty fine too. The staging was just as moody and cool as it needed to be…I’d like to see this one fleshed out a bit. Three for three!
The second half of the show began with the debut of Jake William Smith’s Rapscallion Diversion (excellent company name) and THE HENCHMAN’S SURVIVAL GUIDE (another good name…that’s good naming, Smith). From the vantage point of a veteran flunky in a supervillainous army, Jake’s put-upon trooper guides his new recruits (in this case we, the audience) with handy tricks to making it through day to day existence when working for a criminal mastermind.
It’s a funny, high energy show from the talented JWS, and it’s good to see him stretching with a little solo work (May Can’s Cory Thibert directed the show). Hero/villain/flunky dynamics have plenty of material to mine, and while one or two moments in the show strayed too close to AUSTIN POWERS territory, there’s plenty enough manic fun to carry us through. This is another show that could definitely be worked into a longer piece (actually, that applies to most all of Fresh Meat, a good sign). Also, cool uniform.
Without a beat, we segued into the penultimate show of the evening, from the night’s hosts GRIMPROV (aka Mike Kosowan, Joel Garrow and Drew McFadyen). I’d arrived on a very special night indeed, featuring the troupe’s legendary technique of Puppet-Prov. And if you like improv, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve seen it done with puppets. And if you DO see GRIMprov’s puppet improv, and you’re sitting in the front row..? Bring an umbrella.
The lads put on a splendid bit of ‘prov, with their trusty puppet assistants and musical accompaniment from the ever excellent DJ Helicase. Plug time: GRIMprov have a regular gig at the Imperial Tavern on Bank Street, first and last wednesday of every month. So if you missed Fresh Meat, you can at least catch THIS act again anytime you want.
And what to cap off this magical evening of theatrical whimsy? Why, the uber-whimsical Tess McManus and her Little Green Hat, with her one-woman show TALES SHE TELLS (following up her successful Fringe run of the delightful DONKEY DERBY). Now, lacking as I am an advanced theatre degree, I’m unable to properly review the finer artistic aspects of Tess’ show (sorry, little one, I could not resist), but from my own non-edjicated perspective, it was a beautiful show from start to finish. The start being a classic Irish song(Tess has a positively gorgeous voice, folks) leading into a quick recap of a variety of love legends from the emerald isle, always told with a bright theatrical flourish and always engaging. I think young McManus is on to something with her shows on Irish lore and legend, and I hope like heck she continues on in this vein. And shame on ya if you missed her latest!
And that was a wrap on the inaugural FRESH MEAT DIY Theatre Showcase. It was a great night, with vibrant, exciting performers and a wide range of styles at a fun, quirky venue. I can’t say I hope this becomes an annual event, though, only because I hope it happens way more frequently than that. I’d be willing to bet there’s more than enough young talent in town chomping at the bit for the challenge of a micro-fest such as this (Glassiano, I’m looking at you). Can we schedule the next one for, say, February? Maybe a nice post-UNDERCURRENTS timeslot. Just a thought. Jonah?
…Well, maybe I’ll let them all catch their breath first. But I promise, if they DO put another one of these festivals on in less than a year, I’ll actually have my review up DURING the run, not 10 days after. How’s that for a deal? Peace, love and soul, Ottawa,
The Visitor (and Winston)