I’d been excited about the debut production from Vacant House theatre since I heard of their forming, and for one glaring and personal reason. The co-founders, Karina Milech and Alexis Scott, were both graduates of the Ottawa Theatre School and good pals of mine, and of course my soft spot for my OTS alma mater is a poorly kept secret. So when I found out the two of them were forming a company and striking out on their own, I was over the moon. They chose for their first production THE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE by Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross, and vowed to stage it as a site-specific piece of theatre. I remember them searching high and low for a literal vacant house to use for the show, until they eventually settled on the unusual but intriguing choice of the basement of the Ottawa Backpackers Inn in the Byward Market. Okay, it turns out it’s sort of right next door TO the Backpackers, but they have two buildings at 403 York (near the corner of King Edward), plus a volunteer outside to help guide the incoming traffic, so it was all good. Once in, Stage Manager Natasha Graham offered the small group of attendees (barely a dozen per showing…it’s one intimate venue indeed, folks) some tasty tea while we waited in the kitchen, with a few understanding but doubtlessly confused ACTUAL backpackers, for the show to begin.
Soon enough we made the steep trek down the stairs to the cramped laundry room basement that serves as the adorably intimate setting for the seriously impressive debut Vacant House has readied down there. Directed by Plosive’s David Whiteley, the show stars Patrick Kelly and Karina Milech as newlyweds Ernest and Ernestine, who just moved into the first basement apartment. It also stars Nick Fournier and Alexis Scott as the ANGER in Ernest and Ernestine…they shadow all of the action, speaking up when one of our supposed lovebirds starts losing their cool. Which, as the name of the show implies, starts happening with alarming regularity.
All four actors are alumni of the Ottawa Theatre School, and they do their school proud with some killer work in a tremendously entertaining one-act show. The sheer amount and quality of physical theatrics that accompany their performances, in such a crazily cramped space makes me not only doff my reviewer’s cap to them as a collective, but also wonder how they hell nobody got trampled or steamrolled in the ensuing theatrical madness. Not that you’re actually in danger, folks (tho watch out for flying cornflakes), the Vacant House kids are pros and no fooling. The story ranges from sweet to wrenching, comic to patently absurd, and they throw their all into every exceptional moment of it. Patrick Kelly was the only one I hadn’t seen in action previously, and he was pretty damn hilarious as nebbishy Ernest, matching up nicely with Karina Milech’s flighty Ernestine. Alexis Scott and Nick Fournier (Nick fuckin’ Wade!!) add airs of both comedy and menace as the darker halves, occasionally interacting with the unofficial fifth member of the cast, the furnace.
This is a very special theatre experience, folks, and I definitely urge you to strap on your backpack and head down to the Inn (NOT the Jail Hostel, like I dimwittedly headed for the first time…but then, I’m much dumber than you, whoever is reading this) for a basement outing you won’t soon forget. And yes, I know it sounds like I’m gushing because they’re OTS gangsters, which is my weakness, but seriously…a great job, and a wonderful accomplishment. This show is just a fucking joy to be part of, and I expect I’ll be back before its run is out. Reserve your tickets early if you want to beat me to the couch! And did I mention there’s tea..? Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)