Undercurrents 2016

Getting to Room Temperature and Mouthpiece at the undercurrents festival

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Robert Bockstael in Getting to Room Temperature by Arthur Milner. Photo: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Getting to Room Temperature
A Room Temperature Collective Production (Ottawa)

What do we do now? That’s playwright Arthur Milner’s thorny question in Getting to Room Temperature which asks whether we have the right to die – and explores the roles and responsibilities of others in that death – when we’re not terminally ill but, being old, have simply reached the end of life as we choose to live it.

The provocative one-man show, told in storytelling/lecture fashion, is a world premiere. Directed by Milner, it features Robert Bockstael telling what is, essentially, the playwright’s own story.
Some time ago, Milner’s 93-year-old mother Rose, who was not gravely ill, asked her doctor to help her die. He refused. That got Milner exploring the murky politics of old age and dying in contemporary society. He asks us to consider a lot. Some of it, including the financial burden on families and societies of a growing number of lingering elders kept alive by incessant medical intervention, targets our sense of right and wrong.
Milner, through the accessible voice of Bockstael, wraps his questions in warm anecdotes about his family, sprinkles the show with humour, and lovingly depicts his vital, opinionated mother whose life is slowly limited by aging even as her son’s inquiry into dying expands to take in ever-larger ethical and personal territory.

The inquiry, says Milner/Bockstael, is “a conversation I’m having with myself. I’m trying to figure it out.” (more…)

Particle is a playful and complex homage to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Photo: Stéphanie Godin

Photo: Stéphanie Godin

A woman creeps her way onto the stage, holding a tattered book in her hands. The pages are so well-loved that the book is falling apart. She extends it to her audience and her mouth curves into words that might explain the book. But how can you put into words something as nuanced as our reaction to a piece of great literature?

Particle, co-created by Kristina Watt and Martha Ross, is a rumination on inspiration itself. This year, audiences have a chance to capture the World Premiere of this production at the undercurrents theatre festival.

At the centre of the play is Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves, but where you might expect a straight-forward adaptation, 100 Watt Productions sets its sites on the impossibility of wholly capturing the impact of art. Yet, through the lens of this cleverly conceptualized, metatheatrical production, Particle succeeds in inviting the audience to experience a delicate moment of shared understanding.

The stage layout features a prominent projector screen to its right where images of rolling waves are projected—a nod to the book that is at the heart of this production. The play features some basic set pieces, for example, a desk with a small bell and some clutter directly center, or a coat rack that stands at stage left. It’s all intentionally vague; the set is simply a play-ground for the characters. And these characters aren’t what they seem.

Actress Kristina Watt uses costumes (including exaggerated noses, lab coats, glasses and more) to take on various characters, and yet, these characters are heavily symbolic in nature. They are exaggerated and far from realistic—they are characters that Watt wears like a coat as she tries to home-in on the meaning behind Woolf’s enigmatic novel. Underneath the characters is another nameless, tenuous character that is just as present on stage, finding moments of silence to simply stare back at the audience. There’s a complex balance between what’s real and what’s not that Particle manages to capture, a credit to director Martha Ross. (more…)

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