Festival’s playlist runs gamut from delightful to pedestrian

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

Categories: Professional Theatre

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Scene from The Book of Daniel
featuring Maureen Smith, Eric Craig
and Brian K. Stewart
Photograph by Andrew Alexander Photography

The Extremely Short New Play Festival
New Theatre of Ottawa
At Arts Court Theatre

The thing about a festival of extremely short plays — in this case 10 of them, all new and each no longer than 10 minutes — is that if you don’t like one, another will soon take its place.

This second annual festival consists of shows by Ottawa writers about everything from an ape applying for the job of governor of the Bank of Canada (the ridiculously humorous The Top Job by Wynn Quon) to a memory piece about coming of age as a Jew during the 1976 Montreal Olympics (The Book of Daniel by Lawrence Aronovitch).

Under John Koensgen’s direction, Eric Craig, Maureen Smith, Brian K. Stewart and Colleen Sutton perform all the parts.

Not surprisingly, some of this works, some doesn’t. That’s because the writers include veteran playwrights and novices, the subject matter varies from the delightfully unexpected to the pedestrian, and some of the shows are well-intentioned but need a lot more polishing to bring them up to snuff.

Laurie Fyffe’s Seeing, for example, is a tightly conceived and executed piece about a Canadian intelligence officer suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan. With Stewart as the emotionally battered officer and Sutton as his conflicted wife, an unfortunately too-familiar topic comes to vivid life.

Ditto Pierre Brault’s Coach of the Year, which takes on the again too-common story of a hockey coach whose interest in his young players is vile. Stewart is the coach, Craig a former player and now a grown man who stumbles across his former coach. The dialogue is crisp, the characters thoroughly sketched, the plot already familiar but gripping.

Caitlin Corbett’s Loyal Opposition, however, is too earnest by half. Her idea — a meeting between former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier’s wife (played by Smith) and the PM’s one-time mistress (Sutton) — is interesting, but the period-conscious formality of the women is stodgy and the storyline lacks snap.

Aronovitch, an experienced playwright, does a succinct job of portraying a way of life in his story of Daniel, but you wish for a touch more grit to make that life tangible.

You also wish for a touch more legibility to the words that are projected onto the wall of the minimal set before each play starts. Meant to lead into the shows by providing a bit of background, the text is difficult to read and is sometimes obscured by the blocks or chairs used in the show.

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