If you’re an Ottawan, you’ve either been or come across all of these characters before—the underage Anglos struggling to get into a bar in Hull, the couple making out behind the Champlain statue on Parliament Hill, or the eager beaver from small-town Northern Ontario who’s finally made the move to the big city.
After having christened uOttawa’s shiny new LabO space in October, By-Product.D-Rivé is back for a short but memorable encore. Performed by students of the University of Ottawa, the nonlinear narrative comprises a series of short, conceptual scenes telling the story of life in Ottawa. The cast alternates between French and English, and surtitles are provided in both official languages.
On the design front, the 90-minute production incorporates an impressive blend of music, choreography, and multimedia projection. The costumes and lighting are funky and vibrant, and pair well with the blank canvas of a set, coloured by the mosaic of people and stories that populate it.
In a standout design moment, a woman remembers her nomadic childhood travelling to by-the-week motels along AutoRoute 50 with her family. The stage is all but dark, save the spotlight of a carousel slide projector offering a less-than-nostalgic photo collection of the dingy motel rooms she grew up in.
What I like about this play is that it doesn’t try to paint a perfect picture of our national capital. Instead, it reels you in by depicting all of the quirky idiosyncrasies that make up the Ottawa experience: deciding whether or not to hold the garlic sauce on your shawarma, the unexplained inundation of mediocre Irish pubs in the downtown core, or the $45 cab ride from the burbs to the club. Whether you grew up here, just moved here, or never left, you’ll be surprised at how much of the text you can relate to.
What I like about this play is that it doesn’t try to paint a perfect picture of our national capital. Instead, it reels you in by depicting all of the quirky idiosyncrasies that make up the Ottawa experience.
While the script is peppered with lighthearted Ottawa annoyances like potholes and unfinished bike lanes, all of which fall under the quintessential “Sorry, we’re working on it!” Ottawa tagline, the cast doesn’t shy away from tackling real issues head-on. Notably, their powerful political agenda addresses inadequate territory acknowledgments—cleverly referred to as “white noise”—and the unjustified death of Abdirahman Abdi in an incident with the Ottawa Police Service in 2016.
The language divide also speaks to the identity crisis that comes with two provinces and cultures sharing a home. At the outset, the laughs in the audience were scattered almost geographically. In an especially funny bit, the actors go as far as translating a passage from one French dialect to another. In the end though, I found the play to be powerful in its ability to unify. There were times when the response in the room was palpable enough that unilingual audience members were cracking up at jokes delivered in a language that wasn’t even theirs.
In the end though, I found the play to be powerful in its ability to unify.
If Beavertails taste like home to you, this show runs a close second. Come prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly: this is Ottawa unfiltered.
By-Product.D-Rivé continues at LabO Theatre part of undercurrents and runs until February 9th. Check the website for the schedule. Tickets are $20 for individual shows or $100 for a full festival pass. The show runs about 90 minutes with no intermission.