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DIY theatre is breath of fresh air

By Diane Lachapelle on October 17, 2015

One of the stated goals of Fresh Meat 4 is to attract non-theatre audiences, partially on the basis that twenty minute bites are easier to swallow than the prospect of a two hour play. For those adept at this new-fangled “binge watching” Fresh Meat will be a breeze and feel like a breath of fresh air, including the literal fresh air you’ll get on the way to and from the theatre.

The program for Fresh Meat 4 somewhat cheekily suggests that the writers and performers involved with the festival are asking “what is a play?” One of the possible answers of course, is that it’s a chance to connect and the plays in this first weekend take varying degrees of risk by offering the audience a range of chances to do so, and in most cases they succeed.

Norah Paton pulls off the so crazy she’s sane bit very well in the satire Stephen and Me. Its truth at the bottom is as disturbing as it is hilarious. Pre-pubescence is a time ripe with the possibility of a single fateful moment (whether bizarre of mundane or a little bit of both) imprinting itself on you and rewiring your brain for good or ill for years to come or forever. This piece also boasts one of the funniest slide shows you’ll ever see. And it doesn’t hurt that its timing could not be more perfect.

In a similar, though slightly less frightening vein, Joseph and Amarise, explores first love in that special time and place in the not too distant past where adolescence, chat room dating, vampires (long before Stephenie Meyer, there was another…), Role Playing Games and, God help us, Vampire Role Playing Games, intersected. This very funny piece exploits a conceit that has become a favourite of modern cartoons (The Simpsons has done something like it many times in recent years) which done by talented live humans in front of you, is quite hysterical.

For those of us who were raised partly by TV Ontario, Jesse Buck’s Mr. Eff will invoke shades of Parlez-Moi, only with Sol’s hapless hobo character re-imagined as a darkly psychedelic clown with celebrity aspirations (or delusions), whose clowning is not intended to poke fun at, so much as poke holes in, reality. The 2D animations are charming, and the live props give the performance an additional comic-book layer of surreal comedy.

While occasionally feeling like an exercise in clowning, the gags and unpretentious physical humour in Train Compartment are light enough to allow the gentleness of the conclusion to come across, when it is revealed that (without giving too much away) it is possible to be accepted for one’s true self, in spite of expectations to the contrary.

Karen Balcome [and Kara Nolte] in be/see/together. Photo by MJ Gervais.

Karen Balcome [and Kara Nolte] in be/see/together. Photo by MJ Gervais.

And speaking of not wanting to give too much away, I’ll say no more than that the weirdest laugh of the night has to go to be/see/together, by Karen Balcome & Kara Nolte and that you should do everything they tell you and since they would want me to make myself vulnerable by saying something honest, I will admit that reviewing plays fills me with anxiety and though I am very fond of Arts Court, I may never be able to get into its elevator without hyperventilating a little. I guess what I’m saying is I really appreciated the bar and you might also.

Come early or stay late for Van Go’s living sculptures, colourful, creepy-funny Homestar Runner-esque creations, some of which may or may not be slightly sight-obstructed children. It took an effort to prevent myself from narrating their actions aloud.

As a whole, this was quite a charming bunch, emcees included (there will be different hosts for every performance) and a very enjoyable evening. Bring on week 2!

Fresh Meat 4: DIY Theatre Fest runs from October 15-17 and 22-24, 2015 at Arts Court Studio. Tickets are $20-25 per evening, which includes five shows. The ‘Fresh 44’ combo is available at the door, which includes two tickets and two drinks for $44. Doors are at 7pm and the show begins at 8pm. Cash bar on site.