Unique in Ottawa, Fresh Meat Theatre Festival showcases new short works by local artists. In its sixth year, the festival boasts a varied lineup of new, creative shows from a diversity of performers. Ten 20-minute plays (plus some bonus programming this year) performed across two weekends provide the audience with an anthology of works and a delightful evening. The lineup for opening weekend (October 12–14) features pieces that all touch on identity and self in relation to others.
Le Crip Bleu
Created & performed by Frank Hull and Alan Shain
Original concept by Michele Decottignies
Livia Belcea: Frank and Alan tell a courtship story between two men in Power wheelchairs through the sultry art of Burlesque, and it’s about time. It is rare to see people with different abilities featured or having main roles on stage, and unheard of to see them exploring their sexuality and desire for love. Le Crip Bleu was bold, upbeat, cleverly comedic and engaging. It may surprise some audiences with its never been seen subject matter, but Frank and Alan’s performances kept everyone’s eyes on them and cheering throughout. This performance transcends abilities, sexual orientation and gender to showcase a simple and universal concept: two people who want each other.
Mer Weinhold: It’s hard to imagine one might need a more in-depth review than “wheelchair burlesque” to get excited about this show. The choreography that’s made possible with a set of wheels must be seen to be believed — the chairs can be an extension of the body, props, part of the set, and stages, in turn. Burlesque does best with a vocally appreciative audience, so if you’re impressed, don’t forget to state your appreciation out loud.
La disparation (She’s gone)
Created & performed by Marc-André Charette and Anie Richer
En Français | English surtitles
Mer Weinhold: A beautifully crafted piece about mothers, loss, and memory that’s by turns funny, sad, and poignant, La disparation embraces the complexity of family relationships. The physical aspect of theatre is not neglected, with quick, dynamic blocking on a very small stage. For those whose English reading speed and French comprehension are both slow, this is a difficult show to follow, but well worth the extra effort if it’s within your ability.
Livia Belcea: Have your tissues ready for La disparition, this play is emotionally taxing. Marc-André and Anie’s words bite down hard and anchor themselves securely into the heart. This performance is in French, which will delight francophones like me, but anglophones will have to look up and read the surtitles, which unfortunately were not perfectly synched with the actors’ performance. Through exchanges between two young people, we discover that they both lost their mothers; one to death and the other to the decline in dementia. They attempt to connect with each other and with their lost loved one by sharing memories and it’s heartbreakingly too familiar and close to the audience’s own experience. Haven’t we all lost someone dear to us? Marc-André et Anie deliver these memories eloquently and poetically, showcasing the melancholic beauty and power of the French language.
Written & performed by Michaela Steven
Livia Belcea: This comedic and quirky story of a young woman navigating her early twenties could have turned very dark at any moment. Our protagonist is an enthusiastic but immature young woman working in theatre who stumbles upon an alcohol infused romance. She somehow keeps it going for a number of years, despite its damaging and slightly disturbing nature. Beer Buddies awkwardly explores this relationship by sprinkling hints of what it could be, but never really deciding and leaving too much to the audience to figure out for themselves. It is unclear whether these two people are drawn to each other because of lust or passion, if the older man is taking advantage of an oblivious girl who doesn’t know any better, or if their relationship is a hazard of perpetually getting drunk. I couldn’t see the connection with the title of the play and the actual play itself, because nothing from the relationship that was presented to us seemed amicable.
Mer Weinhold: A piece of beautifully acted storytelling that explores the thrills and pain of first love, Beer Buddies introduces each scene with a different beer or wine bottle. The play uses its 20 minutes effectively, moving through the short story without rushing. The challenges of navigating distance — in space and in age — in a relationship emerge, with the backdrop of what the two characters are drinking when they spend time together a constant thread.
Honey Dew Me
Devised & performed by Luke Brown and Kyle Cameron
Produced by theatre decentred
Mer Weinhold: An ambitious use of such a short time slot, Honey Dew Me is dense and fast moving. This felt like a preview of a longer work — perhaps a longer version would be able to delve into Ottawa’s gay and queer history in the 1960s in detail. Nevertheless, it’s polished and well put together, and made me want to research the events referenced. Lastly, it’s difficult to present a drag queen character without making an audience laugh, but here the surprise wears off quickly as the story moves forward, presenting the character as a person rather than a spectacle.
Livia Belcea: This political, cultural and historical account of what it was like to be a gay public servant in the 1960s in Canada is brilliant. Luke and Kyle have clearly spent a lot of quality time researching and developing this story and they just nailed it. The play is both flamboyant and sombre as it explores the persecution of gay men by the government but also the challenges and resilience of the gay community. The actors embody and perform just over half of dozen characters, and at times it may take the audience a couple of lines to understand which character is before us. My only complaint about Honey Dew Me is that it was not longer. The depth of characters and subject matter could easily be expanded to fit the hour long format, and I truly hope to see a longer version of this play developed in the future.
Created & performed by Lauren Cauchy, Alli Harris & Amanda Logan
Produced by Toasted Theatre Company
Livia Belcea: Lauren and Amanda (and Alli!) do it again with Badges. The three actresses deliver hilarious but solid performances as they each become three stereotypical women checking off their list of socially imposed achievements to reach by the age of 30. The positive synergy between the three women is intoxicating, and I didn’t want them to get off stage. Young women in the audience will find themselves in all three characters all at once or during separate parts of their lives, and will relish in the metaphorical and ludicrous idea that reaching specific milestones in your life by a certain time is like obtaining specific badges as a girl scout. Hold onto your nickers when the lights turn off and spooky story are told. Seeing this performance on Friday the 13th could not have been more timely.
Mer Weinhold: Three friends on the cusp of being ‘real’ adults only have until midnight to earn their final badges and prove they can achieve the arbitrary milestones of growing up. Each one is missing a different crucial part of what an adult is supposed to be. Tightly written and deeply funny, Badges highlights the insecurities and anxieties of each character through spooky campfire stories that illustrate what they fear the most, and how it’s holding them back from earning their final badges.
The Fresh Meat theatre festival plays in Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Avenue) from October 12-14 and 19-21. Showtime is 7:30pm for all days. Tickets are $20 advance or at the door, or $15 in advance for both Thursdays. For complete details, visit the Fresh Meat website.