by Trish Chang, dawghaus.ca
90 min | Dramedy, Musical | PG
TheatreHowl’s Matchstick has been carefully billed as the story of a girl, in an Undesirable Country, who falls in love with a Foreigner, in this not-very-fairytale musical. From a turbulent childhood to a charming courtship, the show follows the story of a girl named Matchstick, and what happens when loved ones are left behind, left guessing, or just simply, left.
Playwright-actor Nathan Howe has gone to great lengths to keep Matchstick’s plot details under wraps, as to not ruin The Big Reveal. But he really doesn’t need to. With two seriously talented singer-songwriter-actors that carry the show, you forget that you still don’t know their real names halfway through the show, and moreover, there aren’t really enough clues for the average viewer to guess who they might be. However, there is ample foreshadowing indicating that this isn’t your happy-ending love story. It’s pretty clear from the beginning, and throughout the play, that love—especially love that is littered with lies—might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
Nathan Howe and Lauren Holfeuer carry Matchstick like nobody’s business, both in their primary roles, as well as in playing a dozen other characters seamlessly. Holfeuer is masterful at depicting Matchstick’s vulnerability combined with a determination to find a happy ending. She is well matched with Howe, who is clearly a great comedic actor, and inhabits each of his characters with ease. They skillfully use music as an exposition to the story, with an original score that holds some of the show’s most serious and comedic moments. Running at 90 minutes, they keep the show moving at a snappy pace, with a simple but ever-morphing set, an inventive use of an overhead projector, and some unusual “instruments” that integrate well into the musical, and could only be pulled off by skilled musicians. The staging is effortless, in a way that you know only happens with some serious rehearsal and thoughtful direction. While the balance weighs more on the drama than comedy, there are some perfectly-timed comedic moments throughout Matchstick that really pay off.
While this reviewer loves musicals, I’m sure that the non-musical lovers will enjoy this show. If you find yourself regularly at the Blacksheep, eagerly awaiting the Folk Festival or listening to CBC Radio Three, you’ll get along just fine with this musical. The masterful use of a minimal set, charming performances by the two actors, and some really great music make this show worth catching.
Matchstick by TheatreHowl is playing at Venue 3 – Academic Hall (133 Seraphin-Marion, University of Ottawa) on Friday June 21 at 11:00pm, Saturday June 22 and 4:00pm, Thursday June 27 at 11:00pm, Saturday June 29 at 7:30pm and Sunday June 30 at 5:30pm. Tickets are $10.