Review by Erin Fagan
On November 14 through 16, UPEI's Duffy Amphitheatre was transformed from a standard lecture hall into a stage for experimental student drama. The annual UPEI Theatre Society Evening of One-Acts has traditionally been an excellent opportunity for students to produce, direct, and perform their own short pieces on a public stage. This year, three eclectic comedies were produced by the society, including one which was also written by two student playwrights.
(Incidentally, this reviewer directed one of those one-acts-"Interiors"-, and won't be commenting on her own work.)
The first play of the evening was directed by director Danny Maloney and written by Stephen Gregg. "Postponing the Heat Death of the Universe" is a work of intelligent humour with quirky, human characters. Nick Olmsted (Adam Gauthier) is a slightly proud, eccentric freshman who has just lost a $5,000 scholarship to the equally proud and eccentric junior, Jackie Walker (Melanie Stavert). When she drops off a less-than-gracious condolence letter at his dorm room, she finds him moping on the bed with the lights off. Stubbornly, he asserts that he is valiantly "postponing entropy" by not expending energy. Jackie refuses to leave until she has made her rival budge. In the process of profoundly annoying each other they inadvertently reveal their common loneliness, individual illusions, and underlying warmth.
A richness of detail marked this performance, in direction, setting and character creation. Maloney crafted a complex and finely executed lighting design which played with the multiple sources of light existing within one typical room. The set consisted of two parallel bedrooms, each one completely furnished and decorated into separate worlds which reflected the idiosyncrasies of the characters inhabiting these spaces. Most importantly, the characters were equally rich and nuanced as portrayed by the actors. Gauthier's characterization conveyed subtle gradations of moodiness, apathy and defensiveness by his voice and facial expression alone. This contrasted suitably with the high animation that Stavert put into her portrayal of the relentless Jackie. Newcomer Mary Clements also did well as the Nick's smiley crush, Stacey, particularly during challenging monologues which revealed what the characters themselves would have preferred to have left concealed.
The second play, "Poets," merits submission into the New Voices playwright competition. An original, creative and funny work, it was written, directed, and performed by UPEI students Lennie MacPherson and Matt Stewart. Their characters, Murphy and Julian are extremely earnest, amateur bards attempting to find their voices as poets. Part of this commitment to the craft seems to involve a steady consumption of beer at all times, as well as an adherence to Percy Shelley's dictum that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Murphy is attempting to recreate, in one hyperbolic draft, the magic of his one date with a girl named Janet. Julian, the philosophical scribe, is trying to define the aesthetics of his craft with more than a little self-importance, particularly in the face of skepticism from his roommate, Lucinda. By the end of the play, Julian gains the respect of Lucinda and Murphy gets the girl back all through their poetry.
This play was hilarious and full of great little bits of absurd dialogue surrounding the nature of poetry. Stewart and MacPherson's characters were rendered naturally and with excellent comedic timing. Newcomer Norah Pendergast also did well portraying the more cynically minded Lucinda. However, the scenestealer was Joey Weale as a blazered, turtle-necked poetry workshop instructor with a penchant for dramatic/awkward pauses. Weale's best bit was played out just upstage of the main action, involving a mimed, confused attempt at sorting all of the components of his styrofoam coffee cup and lid in PEI's new Waste Watch program. This completely distracted the audience from the very important ideals being elucidated by Murphy and Julian, but the reviewer was told that this was part of the point.
In summation, this may have been the best series of one-acts in several years. Attendance was just below 70 people on the Friday and Saturday evening performances. Sadly, this is the last production in which retiring co-chairs Andrew MacPhee and Adam Gauthier will be producing, although by the excellent reception of the audience I believe that their hard work had been greatly appreciated.