Undercurrents 2015 Part 1: Far & Air & Love (+Hate)

I don’t know how to start this thing off today (700+ blogposts on this thing, surely you’re all wise to my smarmy little writer-tricks by now, right?) so let’s just jump right in…UNDERCURRENTS is back again, Ottawa’s dapper, smashing little juried Theatre festival that makes February all warm and snuggly for a couple of weeks. There’s a sweet lineup once again, courtesy of fest director Pat Gauthier, plus a whole new home at Arts Court, as Undercurrents cozies up to its new Mommy festival, the Ottawa Fringe. Last night was opening night, with a packed house all evening, and maybe the beer was having a little trouble pouring that smoothly, but the theatre was rolling out JUST right.

First up was Ottawa fav’rit Thunk! Theatre and their newly expanded and revamped FAR & NEAR & HERE, originally produced as a 20 minute entry to the Fresh Meat Festival 2 years ago. Created by and starring Thunk’s titanic tag team of Geoff McBride and Karen Balcome, the show follows the weird long-distance friendship (romance?) of Ned and Ted. Ted (Balcome) is a pragmatic list-maker and Aquatic artist from Near, while Ned (McBride)is somewhat misanthropic writer and Boat-builder from
Far…which is quite far from Near. After a brief chance meeting in Here, Ned and Ted strike up a postcard friendship that leads to their decision to meet up for Ned’s Birthday halfway between Far and Near, in Here. Which also happens to be in the middle of the Ocean.

Karen Balcome and Geoff McBride of Thunk!
Karen Balcome and Geoff McBride of Thunk!

Thunk! shows are like a warm hug to your soul, and F&N&H is no different. Gorgeously written, magically staged (you can very much feel the touch of director/dramaturge Emily Pearlman throughout) and of course wonderful performances from Geoff McBride and Karen Balcome, two immensely likeable creators with talent to match their charm. Some epic sound design from the ever-impressive AL Connors, plus Seth Gerry’s terrific lightwork makes this just about as good a start to Undercurrents 2015 as you could beg or scream for.

A brief intermission, and the second Act of the evening got underway, this time in the Studio, where Trevor Copp of Tottering Biped Theatre took to the stage for AIR, a pay-what-you-can show that is a pretty towering display of talent indeed, and whatever you CAN pay, I hope it’s a lot because his dude’s worth it. Featuring a trio of short, wordless, very physical character pieces of limitless imagination, brought to frickin’ beautiful life by Trevor and his clearly enchanted frame (plus director Richard Beaune, natch). The storylines ranged from a man stalking a Stag to the real answers you need about Death, and maybe you’ll follow every moment and maybe you won’t, but it’s easy enough to just lean back and wonder at the artistry on display. I do recommend either getting a good seat up close, or getting to high ground for a good view…you’ll want to be able to see every moment that Trevor brings to life up on that stage. Very impressed.

LOVE+HATE from the Peptides (image by Bonnie Findley)
LOVE+HATE from the Peptides (image by Bonnie Findley)

One final show for the evening back in the Theatre, as a Fringe fav’rit from last year made its triumphant return to the stage. Local musical superheroes The Peptides were back with their unspeakably entertaining LOVE + HATE, and there’s just nothing bad to say about this Goddam fun show. To anyone kvetching about Ottawa being a boring town, I present to you this show…watch it, then slink back to whatever desolate Hellhole you come from and bemoan the fact that there are no Peptides there to make life worth living. Tackling a variety of topics on the human condition, with more classical theatrical elements interspersed with a pop-noir rock concert, it’s a sight to see (and hear, oh yes, to hear) from beginning to end. While each member of the sizeable combo is clearly a musical prodigy in their own right, as a whole the Peptides prove to be a slickly oiled Theatre group to boot, tossing out choreographed dance numbers, comic scenes, live foley sounds and more with seemingly effortless appeal. Kitschy, kinky musical fantasticalness. I said it.

That was it for opening day, except for the hopping afterparty, which was a blast for everyone (and a somewhat grim discovery of the advanced state of my social anxiety for me, oh well), and a great capper to a kick ass opening night. I’ll be back tomorrow for a few more shows, best wishes and broken legs to the good folk playing there in the meantime! Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid (and Winston)

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