This year’s festival kicked off at the LSPU Hall on Thursday, September 8. Divided into 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. slots, the 2022 Short Plays Fest began with Noah Sheppard’s “ON-AIR!”
In the studio, radio news anchor Nolan Brushett (played by Liam O’Rielly) debates with his colleague (played by Jacob Ferrar) about his reputation, journalistic ethics and integrity, and the stress of dealing with angry listeners. As the show goes on, the audience learns these are not, in fact, two workers at the radio station, but instead Noah battling with his own public image, personified.
As a freelance journalist constantly concerned about my public image, I sympathized with this character.
Next on the roster was “Voice Box” by Unsilenced Productions. In this short, writer and performer Jen Fleming stars as Jane, a young woman who just started a new job in a new city. She becomes entangled in a romantic relationship with a coworker, who continuously confuses and gaslights Jane. Once Jane realizes the toxicity of the relationship, the emotional damage has already been done. This piece is an exploration of the harmful “don’t rock the boat” narrative many women face when it comes to addressing abuse
At 9 p.m., the evening’s second slot of shows began with James B. Elloso’s “Buried Treasure.” Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this play follows three children and their adult guardian, Gaia, as they navigate existence in a nightmarish reality.
With genius use of stage space, creative alternative lighting sources, and the characters extending their performance into the seated areas, the crowd was glued to this set. We joined the kids in searching for the “buried treasure” that Gaia had left for them to find. The moral to the story is soon uncovered–and it’s heavy.
It’s Up to You
Studio Squidcicle’s “It’s Up To You” followed.This is the stand-out show of my whole festival experience, due to its imagination, its cleverness, and clear and careful planning.
Do you remember “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? Well, this was a playwright’s spin on that idea, using audience interaction via online voting to create the story we were watching on stage.
Given two choices, the crowd weighed in on everything the protagonist Paige experiences – from simplistic choices like what she should have for breakfast, to more difficult topics like how she should navigate tough social situations.
In the end, we reached the outcome of “Cthulhu destroys Earth” – one of five possible endings, proving Studio Squidcicle’s creativity and skill. Looking back at my notepad, my final note on this show is a small scribble that simply says “10/10.”
Though it was a tough act to follow, St. John’s Improv did their best with “Fogtown Fantasy: An Improvised D&D Adventure,” based on the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.This piece also relied on audience interaction to create the storyline, with the crowd deciding the setting for the scene as well as what character traits our actors would work with. Other plot points were directed by the number rolled on a hilariously oversized die.
Working on the fly, the award-winning cast created a tale about preserving free market trade, ensuring religious freedom and overthrowing the government, wrapping up each tangent in a neat little bow by the end of the final scene.
Heat of the Moment III
On Saturday, September 10, I returned to the LSPU Hall for a new roster of shows, starting with Joseph Dennis’ “Heat of the Moment III” at 6 p.m. Set in the 1970s at an office Christmas party, this staged reading followed club owner Perry (Parker Glavine) and his right-hand man Van (Austin Card) as Perry attempts to hand Van the reins of the company while simultaneously trying to set him up with an old flame.
Though it was at times confusing, while the audience tried to figure out each character’s role and connection to one another, the end takeaway was clear: change is good, and sometimes it’s best to “give yourself to the universe and let everything be a surprise.”
There was a change of pace with Vanessa Cardoso-Whelan’s “Saudade,” the deepest and most thought-provoking piece I viewed. On its face, “Saudade” is the Portuguese word for “longing,” but the core definition runs a lot deeper. It means happiness and sadness together. It’s about looking back on tough memories that are hard to remember yet we don’t want to forget. It represents the nostalgic yearning for something that once was, and the joy of knowing that, even when it’s gone, you at least had the opportunity to experience it.
Carefully caressed by an oversized men’s shirt, Cardoso-Whelan recalled detailed memories of a late lover, explaining that for everyone everywhere, our memories are all we have in the end.
The 6 p.m. slot closed out with “Bad Date,” by comedian Veronica Dymond. This show followed two women as they got to know each other in a hotel bar. Helen (Sarah Walsh) is a sarcastic regular who comes to people watch, while Angie (Susan Kelsey) is a beautiful newcomer reeling from yet another bad date.
The pair get to talking, and Angie keeps coming back to the bar after every bad date, sitting with Helen each time and continuing their witty banter. Cynical and witty Helen easily flusters innocent Angie, and playful tension grows between the pair, until they finally step onto the dance floor and eventually leave together. The rest is left to the crowd’s imagination.
With Apologies to Nancy Benoit
At 9 p.m., we returned to our seats for “With Apologies to Nancy Benoit,” by Venus Barrington. Barrington, a transgender woman, spoke of her childhood obsession with Canadian pro-wrestler Chris Benoit. Most might remember Benoit for the double-murder of his wife Nancy Benoit and their 7-year-old son Daniel, after which he took his own life.
Barrington detailed the struggle with the loss of a childhood hero as this dark news came to light, and lamented the erasure of Nancy Benoit’s own wrestling career, also speaking of warning signs of Nancy’s abuse that were ignored. This was a very deep, personal take on a dark topic that extends beyond the Canadian sports world to the culture at large.
The second last show of the night was Melanie Ozon’s “Branded,” which followed best friends Tammy and Shayna and their feminist social media platform, VERB.
Through Tammy’s brother, the audience learns that there have been a slew of recent “brandings” –public call-outs of predatory men who use online dating platforms to connect with unsuspecting victims. Tammy’s brother speaks of the fears men now have to face being alone at night, walking through public areas, and meeting new people. The absurdity of it inspired half-hearted laughs of disbelief.
Not Quite Dahmer
The evening closed out with “Not Quite Dahmer,” directed by and starring Brandon Piercey as Jeffrey Dahmer. In this comedy, we join the Milwaukee Monster as he tackles a tough situation – coming out to his conservative Christian parents. As he musters up the courage, his parents fret about what the congregation will think, blaming one another for his actions, asking how he could do this to them… the list goes on.
Eventually, Jeffrey finds his words and speaks his piece – “Mom and Dad, I’m a serial killer.”
Surprisingly, they are not shocked or appalled, but instead deeply relieved that their son is not gay.
This piece was a riot, and I left thinking about my own personal favourite Jeffrey Dahmer quote: “I should have gone to college and gone into real estate and got myself an aquarium, that’s what I should have done.” Yeah, no shit, dude.
The St. John’s Short Play Festival continues through September 19. Find the full schedule and program information online at www.shortplaystjohns.ca.