Student plays dramatize the domestic

Vogt’s first installment mixes horror, literature and comedy with familiar themes

Rosalyn Green’s Polidori’s Vampire is a feast for the literary-minded, full of high-brow banter and Romantic references.
Rosalyn Green’s Polidori’s Vampire is a feast for the literary-minded, full of high-brow banter and Romantic references.

The domestic is a setting rife with familiarity. It’s accessible to its audience, common, homespun—in other words, dull and overused.

The first installation of the Vogt Series doesn’t conform to this convention, stringing together a domestic line-up that would make Martha Stewart cringe—a side effect that, with a few exceptions, will not be resonating in the audience any time soon.

The student-run series, exhibiting three showcases per school year, has chosen a trio of short plays which, despite differing thematically, all occupy the dramatic space of the domestic. From the cozy travelling quarters of a playboy poet to a tableau discussion on the trials of a marriage, their context is relatable and cohesive.

Kicking off the series with high diction and lowly quarrels is Roslyn Green’s Polidori’s Vampire. Set in the summer of 1816, it’s a dramatization of the travels of Lord Byron, P.B. Shelley, Mary Godwin (later known as Mary Shelley) and Dr. John Polidori.

The journey is one of literary legend: Shelley’s courting of Mary Godwin, the horror-writing experiment that produced Frankenstein and Byron’s dismissal of John Polidori (who later composed Vampyre).

Polidori’s Vampire concerns itself with the feud that led to the desperate creation of Vampyre and the doctor’s subsequent estrangement.

The setting is simple: a 19th century living room, comfortably lit, interspersing Polidori’s frenzied monologues with Byron and company’s high-brow banter. The actors are commendable in their attempt to bring the Romantics to life, yet embodying a handful of the greatest figures in literary history is no small task. Such a responsibility seems daunting for a young student cast, and it clearly shows. Speculative, dramatic and humourous, the production weaves through the drama successfully, although it loses itself in the questionable, and slightly unmerited, melodrama of the conclusion.

To the aficionados of Romanticism, this text is delightful. Its subtle humour, obscure references to Byron’s licentious habits and elegant language—despite Byron’s unfit and unnecessary use of “fuck”—are charming.

To the theatre-goer unfamiliar with the period, this play is utterly bizarre. The comedy is lost in obscurity—witty remarks about Byron’s speculated incest going unacknowledged, the reading of Mary Godwin’s Frankenstein rendered insignificant. If a text is assumptive of obscure historical knowledge, however intriguing it may be, it becomes an inaccessible niche, for better or worse. If you understand the references, there is a sense of entitlement; if not, there is a sense of idiocy. So goes the saga of the “privileged” play—the knowledgeable overjoyed, the unaware unappreciative.

What’s For Dinner, written and directed by Jacqueline Andrade, defies the Romantic restraint of the former following Green’s quaint text with a dinner from absurdist hell. Opening with suitable blood-red lighting, an ominous silhouette, and clever play on the word “elixir,” we’re introduced to an eccentric couple, Toity (David Epstein) and Hoity (Lauren Jackson), as they welcome their guest, Penelope (Julia Sheasgreen).

Penelope is the character the audience relates to in the play as the only normative element.

As they dine at an excessively long table, the couple babbles and grunts their way through physical humour and their strained waiter (Max Marcus) attempts to fulfill their every request, some of which include: shredded paper, digital media and a fleshy serving of cannibalism.

Evidently, this is a play about consumption. Through its ridiculousness, it acknowledges the absurdities that nuance our mass intake. At the outset, the ideology is clear, the humour is enticing and the sheer originality is magnetic.

However, as the courses progress the absurdity escalates and the repetition kicks in. What initially attracts the audience becomes exaggerated; jokes are repeated, gags lose their eccentric appeal. It loses steam when the cast tries to go for easy laughs, relying too much on the physical, spontaneous, and overwhelming.

Despite the hectic and hasty shortcomings, the production is successful in entertaining its unsuspecting audience—a clever comedy of the absurd.

Bringing the set to a close is One Good Marriage, written by Canadian playwright Sean Reycraft and directed by Jessica Hallis. With only two characters, no set and a text that continually references the audience, this play is simple in its scope. The script jumps from quick quips to heartbreaking sorrow, documenting the charm and tragedy of a marriage.

Steph (Shelby Stanley) and Stewart (Jon Hallis) are a married couple on their first anniversary, using the audience as a stimulant to discuss their first year of marriage. Both are ordinary, slightly unsatisfied people who live quietly and want more from life. This small story progresses until the inherent tragedy of their marriage, the rift in their relationship, leaves them devoid of community—a role filled by the audience.

With this specific production, the simplicity of the tale is dominant. Two actors, clad in black with no environment to accompany them, are the only focus of the audience’s attention. This is potentially problematic as it puts the burden of the piece solely in the hands of two actors, relying on their abilities to engage. Considering the length of this production, this is a heavy responsibility.

Their burden is realized, and the direction attempts to rectify it through suggestive blocking, yet an extra element seems necessary to sustain the audience’s attention. Acknowledging these limitations, the piece provides a light, cohesive and conventional finale to the restraint and absurdism of the previous acts.

As a whole, the series provided a comprehensive opening installment with selections of the historical, hysterical and humane—a diverse display of student creativity.

Vogt A runs tonight at 8 p.m. and tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in Carruther’s Hall. Tickets are $4.

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