Undercurrents: theatre below the mainstream: from charming and engaging to a show that deserves a “punch out”. Langston has been to Arts Court.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

far-near-here-opens-the-undercurrents-festival-on-february Photo. Andrew Alexander.

Far & Near & Here (THUNK!Theatre, Ottawa)

It sounds too twee for words. Ned (Geoff McBride) is a klutzy ship builder living in Far. Ted (Karen Balcome), who lives in Near, is an earnest illustrator fond of drawing specimens of marine life.  The two meet via snail mail then row out to sea in separate boats and get together at a spot called Here. Life-changing travails define their collective journey.

So it’s a pleasant surprise that despite initially choppy seas – the opening scene in which they prepare to ship ahoy needs radical pruning – and a couple of instances of trying too hard, the play, far from being twee, is charming and engaging.

With just a bunch of empty pop and water bottles plus two office chairs for a set, playwrights/performers McBride and Balcome lead you to care about their awkward but gentle characters who weather a near-disaster at sea and break through self-defensiveness to reach an admirable honesty in their relationship.

Emily Pearlman directs.

LOVE + HATE (The PepTides, Ottawa)

Not opposed to theatricality, irony or tackling the big issues, the nine-member assemblage known as the PepTides ponders the twin poles of love and hate as well as the bankruptcy of western civilization in this series of uneven, mostly musical vignettes.

Four band members play instruments as the others sing, discourse and move, in one case prowling the stage with the urban ferocity one imagines occurring in Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland. The stylized vignettes include a funny but predictable spoof of the corporate world. Another, more finely etched, is set in a lounge. At one point, primate researchers become objects of mockery but just what they’ve done to deserve our laughter is unclear.

Voices and instrumentation are consistently outstanding, but a poor balance on opening night made some lyrics inaudible. As actors, many of the PepTides fall short.

Directed by Emma Ferrante, the show is too often a creaky vehicle for what the PepTides do best: performing music.

Air (Tottering Biped Theatre, Burlington, Ont.)

Mime Trevor Copp moves beautifully in his stories of a hunter and a stag, a man who reaches for the stars, and life after death. Although prone to repetition and the occasional lapse of clarity, he treats his art with a healthy blend of reverence and humour.  He’s especially good at depicting the small moments that can loom so large in our lives. Richard Beaune directs.

Punch Up (Theatre Brouhaha, Toronto)

Granted, humour is subjective, but the award-winning appeal of this aimless, overdone show remains a mystery. Written and directed by Kat Sandler, it’s about a trio of misfits – a failed stand-up comedian (Colin Munch), a jokey nerd (Tim Walker) and a sad-sack lady (Caitlin Driscoll) – searching for acceptance in a heedless world. The characters are cartoonish, the situations silly, the acting often annoyingly loud and rarely textured. This punch up deserves a punch out.

Reviewed Feb. 12 and 13 at Arts Court
The festival continues until Feb. 21. Tickets: Arts Court box office, 613-765-5555


Past Reviews