Community Theatre: A Festival of Surprises

         

Charlottetown joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Theatre Day with, naturally, a theatre festival with not one, not two, but five plays! What more could a theatre lover ask for? Well, good entertaining theatre, certainly; and with five plays in the offing, there had to be at least one good one.

The first half of the program had child-friendly plays, which explained a good number of families in the audience. Englewood Drama Club opened with the charming and witty A Tale of Two Towns created and directed by Peter Bevan-Baker. It was clearly a take from Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story and all the other feuding family tales you can think of, except that this was set in East and West Loyalty between the MacDonalds and the McDonalds, or the Mic-Mac feud for short. Two songs were cleverly written to the tunes of the Spiderman theme and Old MacDonald. Unlike the classic tragic endings, however, this play had a happy ending, with the two clans finally becoming friends as a result of wily plotting by the kids, who didn’t see the sense of the enmity. Thankfully, the well-written script made up for the narrator who hardly ever looked up from her script, and for the kids, several of who still had their scripts with them. That made it seem more like a school play than a festival play. Plus, a lot of lackluster acting from half of the huge cast, saved again, by their witty lines. I did think that the wall created between the two towns was amazing and original—built by the cast themselves out of graffiti-painted large grocery boxes.

Ah, well. At least I knew the second play would be better, as it wasn’t the first time I had seen the Rag Tag Players’ Where the Wild Things Are. The story was as charming as ever, the acting more pronounced, despite the cast being much younger than the first group and different as well, from the original cast. There were a couple of little heads that would scan the audience now and then, presumably looking for familiar faces in the audience. The costumes were great, the masks spectacular, the sets creative, the children adorable. The band seemed a little out of its element and could have played on to segue between scenes, as the scene changes seemed to take a tad bit too long. All that aside, it’s a story that will always be entertaining.

The third and final young people’s theatre was The French Fiasco written and directed by 11-year-old Danielle Proulx and performed by the Bonshaw Young Players. The script was amazing with humour and wit and lots of movement. The acting and direction, considering this was done by an 11-year-old, was pretty well accomplished. Pick-ups could have been a little tighter and if only the French aunt who was the cause of the fiasco in the first place spoke more clearly and loudly and was more aware of the audience, the play would have been much better. I have to mention that the narrator had excellent delivery and was, in herself, quite captivating.

As a whole, the first three plays were definitely entertaining, but I say it’s never too late to teach young people stage discipline and the basics of good acting. That way, they will learn good habits from the onset rather than practice bad ones.

Three good scripts out of three, with two out of three for decent acting wasn’t a bad score for the afternoon. It could only get better, considering the plays after the intermission were for more mature audiences. Thankfully, many of the earlier audience, the children from the plays included, never returned after the break—clearly they were only there for the first half.

The almost nameless group, The Temporary Players from UPEI performed The Philosopher, a play by Dr. Malcolm Murray, directed by Yuling Chen. It had the most curious situation of an old man who kept a philosopher in chains in his basement, feeding him on soup and water, and bringing him up to talk with him about, well, things philosophical. To be invited to meet the philosopher was, apparently, a great honour, at this moment endowed on the unassuming Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the latter seeming quite lost most of the time, almost as if she wasn’t sure what she was doing on stage. Nonetheless, the script was very tightly written, very sardonic at times, but also very funny. The acting was well done with the characters interacting really well, the stage directions almost like a dance.

Sure Thing by David Ives, directed by Jonah Anderson and staged by ACT (a community theatre) was a rip-roaring way to end the day! With only two characters on stage the whole time, the whole script was an exploration of alternatives to just about everything, with the two characters constantly returning to an earlier point in the dialogue and acting out the different ways the dialogue might go with different personalities, progressing bit by bit as they went through the whole boy-meets-girl-and-they-decide-to-date process. The repartee was just amazing and the two actors were superb, picking up lines and characters like they were plucking dandelions in a field.

Four out of five and what an afternoon feast! The big plus was the presence of Wade Lynch as adjudicator, who was generous with his praise as well as really good advice, especially to the young actors. Rob Thomson of ACT was a wonderful Master of Ceremonies, ebullient, engaging, entertaining. A couple of last words, though, about the audience. While teaching young children how to appreciate theatre through exposure, part of teaching them is teaching them how to behave in a theatre, and if they can’t or won’t behave, they should be taken out so that others in the audience will not be disturbed. And a cellphone going off is totally inconsiderate and in bad taste, especially since the audience was already requested to turn off their electronic devices at the beginning of the festival.

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