Perfect wood, in the hands of two flawed brothers, with a flawed father, makes a deeply flawed table. Walking in I came up with an opening line that I was a little too proud of. I thought to myself, “I’m going to describe this play as ‘the opposite of mime!’” And while it is a show with a lot of talking and real power tools, Forstner & Fillister is a play that struggles with existential and all-encompassing issues. How can we live sustainably? Are there virtues we sacrificed in the name of progress? Can art ever die?
If this seems like a lot to cover in a play that is around an hour long, while simultaneously building a table, it is. Will Somers, David Benedict Brown, and director Madeleine Boyes-Manseau haven’t quite figured out how to make the whole thing work all the time, but they have put the pieces together in order to fine tune. The construction process serves as the chronometer for Forstner & Fillister – all concepts, jokes, characters need to fit into that table. The existential demands characters make of the audience are covered by their jokes, physicality, and woodworking spectacle. The play continues being fun throughout.
Brown and Somers play two gentleman tradespeople, woodworkers espousing an outwardly simple idea: “wood first.” Through this catch phrase the audience is dragged through a trade show presentation that holds the show together. The actors wax poetic in high falutin’ philosophical dialogue and then moments later they shift into a crass staccato emblematic of physical labour.
Two unique characters spend 45 minutes before developing clear narrative functions in this hour of very long bits (most of which land), sight gags, foul language, and at times frustration as comedy. None of these on their own are bad and many of them are delightfully executed. But there is something that doesn’t work with this show. The play doesn’t hold together, at times it feels as though three or four different plays are being performed at once while a table is built. Even though I left, feeling satisfied and like I had enjoyed everything I saw, I did feel weary several times during Forstner & Fillister. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and play between the actors, and as soon as sibling rivalry explodes into madness the play tightens, develops focus and really sings but the show is not complete.
There is audience participation in Forstner & Fillister, so if you are shy or unwilling to participate choose your seat wisely. The directing is a silent partner in this show, never imposing itself, but clearly keeping a lid on the insanity that is possible with these two talented performers.
Forstner & Filister is playing in the undercurrents festival at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) until February 17. Visit undercurrentsfestival.ca for a schedule of performances. Tickets cost $20–25 online and at the box office.