The 2019 McGill Drama Festival

Photo courtesy of Zach Ripka

Annually, Players’ Theatre, a non-profit student-run English theatre, hosts The McGill Drama Festival. The 2019 festival, which runs from February 13-16 and 20-23, is presented at Théâtre Mainline. Six one-act plays are featured, all written, directed, produced, and performed by university students. Though the plays are different in scope, tone, and subject matter, all are bolstered by the talents of our peers. The intimate setting makes for two great nights of live theater, and here, we present a rundown of each play.

Though the plays are different in scope, tone, and subject matter, all are bolstered by the talents of our peers.

The Yellow Room

A bedroom can reveal the most intimate and private moments of one’s life. This is the premise on which Yellow Room rests. Written by Paige Lawson and directed by Summer Mahmud, this mysterious play follows narrators, Sloan (Victoria Stevens) and Flynn (Laine Berry), as they chronicle their experience entering the infamous, private bedroom of “Girl” (Gretel Kahn) who they call “Amy”, after asking the audience for names. She is the most popular girl in the neighbourhood. The two narrators receive a glimpse into the not so perfect life of Amy as she fights with her girlfriend Lisa (Sofie Farkas) and confesses to feeling lost in the world. Through moments of dramatic irony, Summer Mahmud’s direction allows the audience to see Amy’s breakdown, tearing her room apart, before she runs away from home, while the narrators speculate with the audience about what happened to her. The strong emotions evinced by Gretel Kahn playing “Amy”, coupled with the stark lighting design, causes the audience to feel as if they are part of her world. Paige Lawson’s script innovatively uses a broken-down fourth wall to engage the audiences while Victoria Stevens and Laine Berry, as Sloane and Flynn, charmingly captivate the audience’s attention, interacting both seriously and playfully. Audiences of all ages can connect with this refreshing and creative play. Yellow Room encapsulates all that is teenage angst and loneliness, while playing with the universal desire to sometimes be alone in your own space.

Mike and Jo (Jo and Mike)

What is better than watching two people reconcile their relationship? At a first glance, that statement may not make Mike and Jo (Jo and Mike) sound like the extremely entertaining, funny, and witty play it is, but this play, written by Kate Hammer, cleverly captures the social pressures of relationships in the 21st-century social media/technology age. The audience meets Jo (Ana Krutchinsky) and Mike (James Pallato), a broken-up couple who are sent to a clinic to reconcile their relationship through mathematical and technological methods. The consequence of failure? Deportation from the city. They watch themselves in holographic forms (played by Maeve Williams and Ethan Mendell) who reenact the best and worst parts of the relationship. Brilliantly directed by Tess Capern, the minimalistic but aesthetically pleasing costumes and sets combined with the simple but intentional direction contribute to an immensely engaging experience. The strength of the four actors enhances the already sharp and captivating script. Mike and Jo (Jo and Mike) results in a captivating, hilarious, and emotional show. From muffins and snacks, to slapstick comedy, to romance, and the most real and raw forms of human connection, this play will make you both laugh out loud and sit back and sigh, as you root for Mike and Jo’s return to happiness, whether that be apart or together.

The Bottomless Pit in the Back Room of Nick’s Speakeasy

Ever consider the consequences of promising a soul to an angel? The Bottomless Pit in the Back Room of Nick’s Speakeasy brings the audience back in time to the 1930s, following conman Tom (Harry Skinner) and his friends, Zoras (Jen Ower) and Pinch (Sydney Gemin). A clever twist on a classic poker game, playwright Daniel Galef introduces the audience to a night of scheming, trickery, and quick wit. Tom searches to find a soul to sell to Zoras for the game, meeting three candidates whose souls he can buy along the way. He fails to buy a soul from Al, a street-person doing odd jobs (Jen Ower) and cannot buy one from Cleopatra (Gretel Kahn), a dramatic young woman with an undiagnosable illness in the hospital. When he finally meets a stranger willing to sell him their soul, he quickly makes the deal and returns to the game. They play until Zoras has nothing to bet, and Tom is left to play with Pinch. As the clever costume design and astute direction by Alissa Zilber indicated, Pinch is the devil. So, Tom is left to bet with Pinch in a final game of poker, and ultimately win’s Pinch’s soul, with the help of the perceptive bartender, Nick (Gretel Kahn). This savvy play, spinning the classic trope of making a deal with the devil in its ending, makes Bottomless Pit a riveting spectacle. With its humour and captivating storyline, coupled with strong actors and intelligent direction, this play is one all audiences will enjoy.

8 ½ Collisions

8 ½ Collisions is a celestial journey through the course of an unlikely friendship. Framed as a collision of two uninhabitable planets, June (Inès Vieux Francoeur) and Faros (Nathan Mendel) — or J and F, as only they know each other — meet in a psychiatric ward and instantly connect. June has manic bipolar disorder, and feels deeply uncertain about her future; Faros is severely depressed, recovering from a suicide attempt but curious for what the world may offer him beyond his illness. To escape the monotony of everyday life in the ward, the two create a metaphor — a parentheses— which allows them to figuratively escape their circumstances and place themselves in “normal” scenarios: eating at a fancy restaurant, having drinks at a bar, playing chess, star-gazing. However, danger lurks nearby, threatening to disrupt their utopia at any moment. The two are always followed by the shadow of June’s mania, played deftly by Leya Gervais, who mirrors and reacts to her behaviour in a reflection of the way that mental illness is omnipresent in the lives of those it affects: “I am just the sun around which they orbit,” she asserts chillingly. It’s a gorgeous love letter (with highly resonant musical cues!) written by Danielle Eyer and directed by Charlie Atkinson, to anyone fighting the same battles as these characters.

A Man in Hue

Ever wonder how much livelier a Shakespeare play would be if it only featured his queer characters? Your answer is A Man in Hue, a superbly clever play written by Steve Greenwood and directed by Caroline Portante. The play borrows from Twelfth Night and The Tempest to create something entirely unique. Annie (played with excellent comedic timing by Jacob Hutnyk) is a scorned lover, abandoned by his Sebastian (James Pallotto) when he suddenly meets Antonio (Luke Horton), a similarly-scorned royal who does whatever he may need — and kills whoever he has to — in order to take the throne. The two band together in shared determination to search for their loved ones, encountering a number of bright characters on their way: Antonio’s niece Miranda (Michelle Rasidescu), the hilarious Queen Olivia (Hazel Neil), and their new pal Maria (Mary Looney). The ensemble lives in Illyria, or “Queer Illyria” as its inhabitants sometimes call it, an accepting place but not quite a utopia — so when Annie sets off to find his long lost Sebastian, it’s with these constraints in the back of his mind. All of the characters intertwine and test the boundaries of their circumstances, wondering what would be more preferable: to live in comfort and practicality, or with love and passion?

…what would be more preferable: to live in comfort and practicality, or with love and passion?

Young Love

Dating, as many of you may know, is almost like a social experiment. Why do humans behave the way they do in courtship? What are the factors behind their decisions? Why might they buy popcorn at a movie if they don’t really want any? In Young Love, Ari (Liana Brooks) and Lea (Isobel Macleod) are on a date at the cinema, where their every awkward silence or blushing gaze is being captured on tape by a curious scientist (Steven Finley) who narrates the two lovers’ evening for the audience. The scientist is on a mission to analyze teen dating behaviours, making sure to carefully analyze his subjects: like how they’re both scared of each other, the passion they notice in each others eyes while talking about the things they love, the compliments they offer (“this is where most teens don’t know how to go on,” he dutifully observes). The scientist rewinds and plays the scene in slow motion to capture all the intricacies of a first date, remarking that most teens have an inability to answer questions properly while sitting close to their crush: “What’s your favourite movie?” “Uh… Terminator 2!” Written by Victoria Stevens and directed by Hope Kelly, the amusing set-up results in both a plethora of funny moments and a whole lot of truths.

The McGill Drama Festival will continue its run from February 20th to the 23rd at Mainline Theatre. Tickets are available for purchase here.

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