Femmetastic (on the lawn) (Femmepire)

In its opening to Femmetastic (on the lawn), Femmepire promises its audience that it will deliver a work that is all about distraction, and as part of it, will be messy to watch. Femmetastic (on the lawn) keeps this promise, as a dialogue emerges about a play that is never fully realized as a play. This is all purposeful, as characters struggle to determine if they can be heard, and how they can proceed; an accurate metaphor for the daily balancing that exists in day-to-day life at the moment and ongoing confliction in information with regards to what is safe and what isn’t.

There isn’t much to this performance. It’s cute, silly and absurdist to watch two capable actors (Claud Spadafora and Jesse Horvath) try to figure out how to stage a show within uncertain restrictions. But with this as the central premise of the show, the comedic effect of this wears out well before the gags stop, and as a result, the performance itself feels unnecessarily long- even though it’s only twenty minutes in length.

However, if taken at face value, there also isn’t meant to be much to this performance. Femmetastic (on the lawn) promises a distraction, and in that way, it works. It executes exactly what it promises to do, which is what all theatre offers to some extent- a distraction from its everyday life. In twenty minutes, the audience is asked to laugh at and with the actors and the world around all of us and what it has all become. But it doesn’t offer the rejuvenation or reflection that great theatre does, leaving the audience both physically and metaphorically at the end in the exact same place in which we started- whether it is in a backyard, driveway or infront of a computer.

Blackberry (Red Betty Theatre)

While Blackberry is a full-length play by local theatre company Red Betty Theatre, what is offered at What the Fest?! is a short excerpt that tells the story of three young adults who find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery with a potentially paranormal twist. While the scenes are well-chosen to stand on their own merit, as an excerpt from a full-length production, key elements are unresolved to the audience in this format. A casual mention of sexual violence offers an emotional climax for one character but is not fully unpacked in what the audience experiences in this shorter version. As a result, the presentation of this issue feels inauthentic or inserted into the production for shock value alone, rather than addressing a larger societal issue through theatre. Social justice issues are handled similarly, with the ending ultimately feeling unresolved; perhaps to encourage a future audience to see the full-length version.

Blackberry has clearly been written as a traditional theatrical performance for a traditional theatrical space, and this works both against and for the troupe in this specific production. What the Fest?! does not offer traditional theatrical spaces, and a disconnect immediately occurs as the performance sets itself in the woods or near a canal, rather than utilizing some of the spaces and natural landscape that the performance was delivered to. The camera angles utilized for capturing this performance also don’t match the traditional blocking being done- so some shots are more difficult to see or performers are at times, more difficult to hear than others.

As a traditional piece of theatre, there is much to enjoy. The direction is well-executed (by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard), and the production well cast, with its three actors (Gisy Mohamed, Jason Chung, Molly Murray-Mutch) conveying a genuine chemistry and friendship that comes from knowing someone for years. Their spacing and blocking appears very natural, even as they attempt to physically distance from one another (with mixed success). Lighting and sound are carefully utilized to craft a cohesive work, with a clear understanding that sometimes, a well-timed silence can communicate more than words ever could. Music is also strategically utilized to communicate the passing of time. While it may be awhile before more traditional theatre spaces are open again, it will be interesting to see how this work returns to that space, and whether it takes any key learnings from their time outdoors, inside.

I Really Wish You Knew Me (Open Heart)

What is most striking about Open Heart’s I Really Wish You Knew Me is its honesty. Even in its description in the What the Fest?! schedule, the performance promises a mini musical response with content from people experiencing homelessness and addiction in Hamilton during the pandemic closures.

These responses are both verbal and musical, taking place over a series of existential questions that attempt to be answered by other performers throughout the performance. ‘Who am I?’ for example, is answered not by an individual name, but by the relationships that person experiences with those around them, or by unique personality traits. What is home, and what really matters are answered in similar fashion. Connecting these questions are the promised musical interludes, which are simple in their composition and presentation, but appropriately fit within the rest of the performance. A ringmaster interjects occasionally with reminders or “commercial breaks,” to keep these questions separated, but also keep the pace of the performance moving well. There is never a quiet or empty moment within I Really Wish You Knew Me, keeping the focus on the response and tragic plights of the individual characters and stories.

By centering its work in this way- around those who would be perceived as having no hope; Open Heart takes its audience on a journey to ultimately remind us that there is hope and joy when we have the ability to love, care and find our collective greatness in our individual differences and similarities.

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