So it’s that time of year again..the snow has finally melted, and the kids can smell FRINGE in the wafting breezes and they just can’t contain themselves! And so bursts forth in May the YOUTH INFRINGEMENT FESTIVAL, and all is well with the world…or, at least May in Ottawa is pretty well taken care of. Taking place at Arts Court in the Theatre and studio, this is the 16th year of the little festival that just wishes you’d quit trying to box it in with your RULES and REGULATIONS, you square! Run this year by superstar Lily Sutherland, seen recently tearing it up onstage in Ottawa U’s production off THE BALD SOPRANO, who has added a sweet art gallery component in the studio itself (called SUBMERGE, and curated by Lauren Parsons) so you can get all cultured while snacking on a cupcake and pop and waiting for the next show (remember, YI is only 16, so no booze at the bar…yet). After day one of the festival, I’d say Lily and her production team of Sam McCarthy and Jeremy Piamonte are doing a pretty sweet job…including the first time I’ve ever seen the YI schedule done up in such a way that I can actually just see all the shows in the first two days with no repeats! Seriously, I think these kids are wizards or something.
But SHOWS! Three world premieres on opening night, starting off the Madison Joliffe’s THE EVER-PRESENT WITNESS. Directed by Alexandra Isenor, this one is a very fun large-cast show starring a seemingly happy nuclear family who are each nursing a deep, dark secret all their own. All smiles and cheer on the surface, Mom Claire and Dad Rob (Rebecca Laviolette and Liam O’Brien) oversee their four children with what seems to be endless patience. But Bree (Shannon Collins), Ben (Cory Hogan), Brooke (Rebeccah Pyrah) and Blair (Lisa Johnston) all have secret agendas of their own, ranging from desperate to downright sinister. By the time Rob’s mysterious Senator boss and his son (Euan Wheaton and Dustin Roy) come over for dinner, things are well primed to hit the fan. And always there’s the witness (DJ Johnston, in a lovely and mostly silent role), just taking it all in until he can’t take no more. A groovy show with some fun staging, lots of energy and a very fun script. This is a good way to start the night.
Next up was LUCY by David Coleman, and directed by Elizabeth Chant. A one woman tale starring the very likeable Julia Bueneman in the title role, Lucy is a rather peevish, grumpy immortal with an axe to grind with her very famous Dad. I won’t give that secret away, but Julia as Lucy has some cool fun relating the tale of her long and troubled life, drinking and smoking throughout as the latest in what must be an endless line of coping mechanisms. This is another cool one, darkest of the night’s entries, and left me wanting just a little more. Another cool script, I was just hoping to see both director and actor really dig into it a little more. But I’ll be watching out for wee Miss Bueneman in the future…she does herself proud in a tricky performance as an almost intentionally unrelatable character. Good food for thought, this one.
Finally, after a bit of sweet live music in the studio, the evening was finished up by Ryan Nadon’s THE ANOMALY, directed by Colin Giles. A merry bit of retro-themed lunacy, the show stars Paul Piekoszewski as Joseph Baxter, a 60’s scientist investigating a mysterious chunk off meteorite in his home lab. Enter assistant and good lad Robert (DJ Johnston, back for the second time tonight), who balances work with the Doc and trying to date his lovely daughter Emily (Joy Mwandemange). All would be going swimmingly if it weren’t for Joseph’s money-hungry vamp of a wife Margaret (Katie Volkert, ta king a break from playing a petulant British teenager) and her obedient lover David (Matthew Godin). This one is a crowd-pleaser by design, with scenery chewing performances all around in just the right pitch, working well with a funny script and smooth direction. Some big laughs, even for YI, in this one, and well-earned. (And on a completely unrelated note, hey Katie Volkert…I see from the program that you’re from Manitoulin Island, where I’m going at the end of summer for clown camp. If you have any advice for the tall, out-of-place guy with glasses in the crowd tonight, please say hi!)
That was it for opening night 2014…back tonight for the next round of WORLD PREMIERE SHOWS, if I didn’t mention that before. As always, great atmosphere, wonderful fun, and it’s nice to be reminded that Ottawa’s youth scene is keeping theatre alive andwell. See you there! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)