Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Ottawa Little Theatre celebrated its 98th season by hosting the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s One-Act Play Festival. This festival, originating in 1933, is comprised of nine plays, between 25 and 60 minutes in length, performed by community theatres from all over Eastern Ontario.

In past years, quality of production has varied, some established theatre companies displaying more experience and polish than others. But in the past fifteen or so years that I have been attending these festivals, this gap has narrowed and it is no longer these companies  that prevail. This year, has continued the trend with Perth, Almonte, Manotick and Kemptville all receiving favourabale comments from adjudicator Laurel Smith.

Although everyone will offer different opinions on the nine productions, I always look at how each group deals with the challenges presented by their chosen play. One of the major challenges that all had to deal with was the cavernous size of the Ottawa Little Theatre stage. Many of the plays featured only two or three players, and if the primary action of the play took place upstage, some of the dialogue was lost. This proved a major problem for More Theatre’s presentation of “The Way of All Fish”by Elaine May.  Florence Moor and Arlene Watson, both accomplished actors whose voices normally can be heard quite clearly, seemed to be whispering throughout the play.   The same difficulty cropped up for Joanna McAuley in Studio Theatre Productions “The Last Act is a Solo” and Sandra Tobin and Diane Miller of Kemptville Players’ “ Ciao, Baby” by Kent R. Brown. However, these sets were placed further downstage and so the problem was less troublesome.

Tara Players, as always, presented an Irish play, “Thirst” by Flann O’Brien. No problem with volume here, but the main character, although he gave a fine performance, spoke with a very pronounced Irish brogue that I found difficult to understand. It wasn’t until half way through the play that my ear attuned to the dialect and I could figure out what he was saying. Perhaps because of this, I wondered where this play was going. However, as a group they functioned together  efficiently and were awarded an adjudicators award for Outstanding Ensemble. Margaret Harvey-O’Kelly won the Most Promising New Director award.

The primary challenge in “Harvest”by Ken Cameron and presented by Valley Players of Almonte was for its two actors to change character numerous times throughout this fast- paced play. Garry Welsh showed a chameleon-like ability to make  rapid fire changes from a farmer sounding like Charlie Farqueson to a precious lady realtor. Unfortunately he was less convincing at dealing with the “fourth wall” as the farmer relates his story to the audience,

Studio Theatre presented two plays. “The Last Act is a Solo” by Robert Anderson presented the challenge of portraying an 85 year old actress who is losing her memory. Much of the play is monologue which Joanna McAuley handled beautifully, resulting in an award for the Best Female in a Leading Role. Unfortunately, the changing relationship with her nephew was never properly developed.

Studio Theatre’s second play, “My Narrator” by Norm Foster, was a delightfully silly romance (When is Norm Foster not delightfully silly?) involving a young couple who create supposedly fictional narrators to advise them when they are making wrong decisions. The changing relationship of the young couple, Lacy and Miles, develops satisfactorily as does that of the fictional narrators. Narrator Barb Guthrie won the award for Best Female in a Supporting Role, and the members of the audience who had seen all nine plays voted to award it The Brighton Barn Theatre People’s Choice Award.

“This is a Play” by Daniel MacIvor  presented by Peterborough Theatre Guild, is a play within a play. One of the major challenges, which was handled skilfully by this group’s technicians, was the use of multi media with a projected image appearing periodically on the back wall throughout the play. Another was the challenge of actors being actors, then stepping out of their play character to speak as their real character, something that was not always done as successfully. Projection Technician and Master, Rowan Lamoureux, received the award for Outstanding Technical Aspect. Lighting assistant Avery Bowser won the award for Outstanding Student Contribution.

“The Visitor” by Belleville author Carl C. Cashin and presented by Quinte Community Theatre demanded the willing suspension of belief as a party of girls and WWII air force officers are invaded by a parachutist from the war in Afghanistan. This was written as a play in two acts, but act one was severed so it could be done as an individual play. The challenge here was to make it stand alone, which didn’t quite come off, leaving the audience somewhat bemused. The authentic 1940’s dresses and uniforms used in this play brought Carl Cashin and Bob Glasson the Nancy Chajkowski Award for Costume Design.

Ottawa Little Theatre capped its 98th season by winning the award for Best Production. Their entry, “The Interview” by Ken Wilson, was a winning play from OLT’s one-act play writing competition last year and was the most uniformly solid production of the festival.  The imaginative and evocative set, which effectively offset the size of the huge stage, was comprised of three  grey flats set at angles and enclosing a table and three chairs. There is little action in this play, yet the three accomplished actors kept the audience rivetted as they question with flawless pacing a seemingly senile old man from a nursing home where a murder has been committed. My only objection was with the costuming which was almost uniformly the prison grey of the set so that the characters tended to disappear into their background. Admittedly, the officers had to wear subdued colours, but surely an elderly man might wear a bright plaid shirt?

However, that small problem did not prevent OLT from winning three acting awards, and awards for Best Visual, Best Director and Best Production.  Awards well deserved.

Comments by Joan Sonnenberg