A must C

Three plays, diverse in nature, deliver on stage

Vogt C features three flamboyant and poignant one-act plays such as Chekhov’s Drama (above).
Vogt C features three flamboyant and poignant one-act plays such as Chekhov’s Drama (above).

On Wednesday night in a pitch black studio, I was introduced to a famous writer, his not-so-talented wannabe, two self-repressed bros and their stories of testicles and masturbation. Then came the lights, action and colour.

The stories in the final installment of Vogt’s Studio Series are a daunting ode to the powers of narrative, a creative mix of criticism and celebration of social ills and overcoming. Three flamboyant one-act plays occupied the stage starting with Chekhov’s Drama. Ryan Laplante plays the established writer Pavel Vasilyevich, who finds himself miserable and timid in the company of the larger-than-life (but horribly amateur) writer Murashkina, played by Veronica Bart. We, the audience, observe pityingly as Pavel struggles, literally withdrawing into himself towards madness as he listens to Murashkina’s histrionics.

Murashkina brings a draft of her work to Pavel in hopes of gaining his advice on her first play. Her work is engorged with predictability and excess, sending her listener Pavel into a spiral of agony. Tenaciously, Murashkina engulfs him in a rampant display of braggery and chaos, reciting her long and boring show in a desperate bid to win his attention and praise. In the end, the lights flicker out, and Pavel takes his knife and plunges it into Murashkina, who, in the midst of her harangue, dies with a surprisingly blunt thud—shutting her up for good. The audience laughs, the play ends, and the actors bow.

Chekhov, in a satire against the staleness of Russian dramatic conventions, mocks high society’s relentless and smug satisfaction with mediocrity. Actor Laplante’s Pavel is more congenial at times than disinterested, and Bart’s Murashkina is an awkward and slapstick adaptation of the unapologetically vulgar character. Comedic timing and stage direction were smooth and in tune as the play progressed. Unfortunately, like having a good meal ruined by a single strand of someone else’s hair, neither could save Laplante’s almost childish portrayal and frequent slipups that compromised Drama’s overall integrity.

The second play, a performance stand-up of sorts called Men Telling Stories by Peter Nielsen and Matt Steward, transformed the studio into a night of giggling entertainment. Nielsen and Stewart are two “bros” exposing their fears, dreams, desires and past memories of reaching adulthood. The audience is no longer faceless; with their anecdotes, both Nielsen and Steward reach out to connect personally with our sense of nostalgia and emotions. With humour they engage us in a one-sided conversation on becoming men. Think a combination of Seinfeld and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

The highlight of the show was the duo’s eloquent explanation of what men do when they’re “kicked in the balls.” There are three side effects when kicked in the balls, and for each the visuals are uncanny. For example, there is “The Wanderer” response: a man will gasp for air and limp bow-legged in a crooked line until he can walk no more. With that, Nielsen and Steward set their status as a couple of comic fools with hearts of gold and a penchant for storytelling.

It was the third and last play that would mark Vogt C as the best of the year. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, a play written by Ntozake Shange, explodes on stage in a violent rhythm. Tamara Thomas, who plays the Lady in Brown, angrily cries, “Are we ghouls?!” in a plight of passion—triggering instant interest in the first 10 minutes of the play.

The small studio could barely contain the thunder and song the seven actors on stage beat out. An excellent ensemble, the women on stage could not have been more fluid and dynamic, as they danced and sang in perfect cohesion a raw display of what it is to be hurt, victimized, loved, raped and disgraced. Seven characters, each a Lady in a different colour, explore the gender-race dilemma in a non-linear narrative that’s more soulful than theatrical. Ree Richards, in a powerful performance as the Lady in Red, shed hurt tears as she told the tense audience her story of a woman whose child was dropped from a five-story building. The show concludes with the seven actors walking off the stage in silence, leaving the audience humbled and empowered.

Recovering from the anomaly of its two previous slots, Vogt C successfully carried out its mandate in challenging theatre conventions and reforming the production into a captive collection of performances. Its final show was the deal breaker: with grace, it transforms the passivity of the audience into an interaction with the stage.

Vogt C plays tonight at 9 p.m. and tomorrow at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in Vogt Theatre, Carrruther’s Hall. Tickets are $4 at the door.

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