You might want to add another New Year’s resolution to your list: going to the theatre. With the Centaur Theatre’s 17th annual Wildside Festival taking off for the first two weeks of January, entertainment is guaranteed for any student hoping to escape the cold and have a few chuckles instead.
This year, the Wildside Festival’s collection of plays is ablaze with energy and spirit. There is something for everyone, with issues ranging from losing one’s virginity to childhood innocence to gay conversion summer camps. One thing is for sure: you won’t go home bored.
V-Cards asks the thorny question some of us squirm away from: how did you lose your virginity? Starring actors such as Mike Payette and Anana Rydvald, the play zooms in on four masked actors playing over 20 characters who bandy sexual theories around with some side-splittingly funny results. One scene in particular deserves a nod. Two characters’ inner thoughts are voiced on one night of rather forgettable sex. In between loud snorts, the woman sighs “I wish I could remember the night better … I only had two beers, on top of it.” Her oblivious lover, on the other hand, simpers, proclaiming, “She looked at me! She wore that bodyspray she always wears to parties and she looked like the perfect white cloud and smelled of vanilla.” Clearly, the sexual frisson of the escapade was not shared.
Next up is Blue Box. This one-woman show is an intriguing story set in Chile, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, where two tales are told in parallel: that of playwright Carmen Aguirre’s underground work in the 1980s Chilean movement to oust president Pinochet, and that of a complex relationship with a Mexican-American actor. Aguirre’s passionate relationships with both men and politics has already been staged in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Banff and Regina.
Big Shot presents the six different witness perspectives to a shooting that occurs on the Vancouver SkyTrain. With dance, text and physical theatre, the play explores the myriad of emotions life offers. One particularly striking scene, starring Jon Lachlan Stewart, points the finger at government-funded programs. After performing body-challenging poses, Stewart stops in mid-stance and proclaims: “Life is crap. But I am not supposed to say that, right? … Breathing in the goodness and breathing out the bad. It’s more like breathing in the lies and breathing out the truth,” he says.
You might be interested in A Quiet Sip of Coffee, expertly written and told by Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz. Their story is a peculiar one. In the summer of 2004, the self-titled “gay/straight best friends duo” penned a prank letter to an “ex-gay” organization, requesting funds to produce a play. The reply was a surprise: the organization agreed to it, but at a cost — the duo had to spend two weeks in gay conversion therapy. Still in shock, the friends have reunited to perform their take on what actually happened. A Quiet Sip of Coffee is in the form of docu-theatre, honing in on dark issues such as atonement and melodrama and somehow poking through the dark issues with some light.
Iceland tackles the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis by examining encounters between three interestingly original characters. Halim, a Toronto real estate agent, is changed after meeting Ana, a pious condo tenant, who is also affected when meeting Kassandra, an Estonian prostitute. Part of Nicolas Billon’s Governor General Award-winning play triptych (Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands), the show is to go on to Halifax and Mumbai.
Little Orange Man, which garnered the Montreal Fringe Festival prize, is described as “very revolutionary” and “very epic.” The play deals with a 12-year-old’s resolve to get to grips with her recurring dreams and her relationship with her grandfather. Weaving between the contemporary (think craigslist ads) and timeless fables (think Danish fairy tales), the play points to the eternality of theatre and how time can be overcome by the power of the narrative. Affected by ADD, the 12-year-old addresses her recurring dreams and invites the audience to help her with her quest. Ingrid Hansen shines in her role, with her Pippi Longstocking-esque costume complete with two red braids and her determinedly cheerful demeanour. The play was initially inspired by Hansen’s grandfather.
“He came over from Denmark and moved to Kelowna in strawberry season,” said Hansen. “He was a very soft-spoken, gentle man and strong. My father said he had muscles on top of his muscles on top of his muscles.”
Music, shadow puppetry and audience interaction helps the young girl on her quest.
Talk, Mackerel has one message to impart — life is no piece of cake. Imagine this: you are invited to the birthday party of Leslie Moira Duncanaine. But something is wrong, really wrong. You are entering a world of midnight moonshine where ancestors’ portraits fight and things become alive.
Director and playwright Sarah Segal-Lazar explained the creative process to The Concordian: “I like to think of my play as a moment’s theatre. Every moment counts. I wrote down scenes on index cards and for weeks I shuffled them, giving an order to my narrative. There was no A to Z.”
The Wildside Festival runs until Jan. 12 at the Centaur Theatre at 453 St-François Xavier. Check out the website for more information: centaurtheatre.com/wildsidefestival.php.