Vogt A lineup too ambitious

Unfortunately, Vogt A tried to squeeze too many ideas into a short time frame.
Unfortunately, Vogt A tried to squeeze too many ideas into a short time frame.
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Theatre Review: Vogt A @ Vogt Studio Theatre

Shakespeare may have had a point when he suggested that “brevity is the soul of wit,” but he probably wasn’t picturing the Vogt Studio Series. A staple of the Queen’s drama department for years, the production series is noble in its aim to showcase student writers and actors, but the results aren’t always successful. Squeezing too much ambition into too short a time slot seems to be a common drawback of the series, and this year’s Slot A is no exception.

The night opened with Tower of A Cold Weather Morning by Matt Donovan, a rather brief piece which looks at the strained relationships of friends Sarah, Tilly and Laura. The set centers around a large television, which appears to actually show clips of Dr. Phil thanks to a creative set design by Valen Boyd. In between arguments over which channel to watch, the three women take turns pointing out each other’s flaws while revealing their own vulnerabilities.

Donovan shows a good grasp of the way women relate to each other, and the dialogue between the characters feels authentic, though the monologues from Tilly (played by Megan Miles) seem out of place amongst the back-and-forth repartee of Sarah (Roslyn Green) and Laura (Amy Symington). There is a palpable tension between the characters, and all three actors work hard at their roles under the direction of Donovan and partner Sally Wilson.

“Communication is key,” said Donovan to the Journal after the performance concerning the difficulties of sharing the role of director. “Sally gives me another perspective, which is really important when staging your own work.”

With both a talented cast and two eager directors at the helm, it is unfortunate that the work as a whole seems disjointed. The ending—with a surprise twist that is genuinely surprising, for a change—comes too abruptly in the same way the piece began too suddenly, leaving the feeling that it all might make sense if there were just more conversation, more action, more time. Indeed, Tower is actually an excerpt from a larger work in progress, and it’s too bad Donovan did not choose to stage his entire work in another venue.

The second work of the night, The Store, written and directed by Chris Oldfield, worked better within the short time allotment. Set in a generic office wasteland, the script takes a look at what lies beneath the daily pleasantries people exchange at the water cooler.

“I find it’s very common for [the workplace] to be kind of overly impersonal,” said Oldfield, who was inspired by some of his own on-the-job experiences at Kingston’s A&P. “I think [this script] is very true to life.”

Actors Thomas Beck (Man 1) and Tom McGee (Man 2) take Oldfield’s biting satire and run with it, eliciting laughs from the audience with their deadpan delivery. Both Beck and McGee make great use of their characters’ overly polite natures, at one point turning the sharing of the office water jug into some funny physical comedy.

“The guys are great improv actors,” said Oldfield, who found the script took on an almost absurdist tone during rehearsals.

While never veering too far into the realm of the nonsensical, The Store definitely contains some touches of the absurd, especially Oldfield’s own gratingly repetitive cameos. Quick and light, the show ends on a high note and leaves you wishing it were not intermission quite so soon.

Ending the evening is Pandora, written and directed by Mary Fraser with the assistance of Joanne Williams. Based on the ancient Greek myth, Fraser’s script is interested in Hesiod’s “correct” account of the story, in which it is Pandora herself who is filled with evil and hope.

“I’ve always been a bit obsessed with myth,” said Fraser. “When I realized someone had been getting [the story of Pandora] wrong for so many years, I got a bit aggravated.”

With Pandora, Fraser has written an ambitious piece combining dialogue with music, dance, and elaborate costumes. The result is at times entrancing, with lead Asta Augaitis delivering a wide-eyed and innocent Pandora who appears to float instead of walk, and whose voice turns the script’s dialogue into melodic verse.

Augaitis creates sparks during her scenes with co-star Tom McGee (Boy), and their chemistry lends a genuine feel to lines which might otherwise sound a little overwrought. Both actors appear very comfortable with the physical demands of their roles, and move with confidence during the highly stylized sequence in which Pandora’s “box” is opened. Even as the stage explodes with colour, it’s the facial expressions of both McGee and Augaitis that draw most of your attention.

Each work featured in this year’s Slot A has an appeal of its own, but that does not mean each is suited for the venue. At slightly under an hour and a half including intermission, the Vogt Studio Series leaves little room for the kind of intricate character and plot development that pieces like Tower require. It’s a shame that a theatrical tradition like the Vogt Series can still be so hit-and-miss in terms of its quality—especially when the fault lies not with the actors and playwrights involved. With all the talent available on campus, it is more than possible to fill each Vogt slot with pieces that can truly shine within the specific time and space constraints of the series. Just as in the myth of Pandora, there is still hope.

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