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Photo: Justin Vanleeuwen

Theatre Review: The Persistent Stain at undercurrents festival—until 02.09.19

By Livia Belcea on February 8, 2019

I had high expectations for The Persistent Stain despite the show being a work-in-progress. It was created and performed by award winning talented artists whose works have been enjoyed both at the Fringe and on bigger stages. The music was composed by Nick De Gaetano, and if you’ve seen him perform before, you’ll remember that he knows his way around a guitar.

I was pleased to see that my expectations were upheld and that the show knew how to captivate the audience and instill the kind of ponder creative types would usually be more susceptible to.

Joey Blanke (Geoff McBride) and Maxie Stains (Margo MacDonald) are the two last standing members of The Persistent Stain, a punk-rock band from who knows where, Ontario. They were only 17 when they started the band, and we meet them 27 years later as they arrive at a professional and existential crossroad. Maxie is asked to produce one of their songs for a major motion picture, but this new opportunity forces the duo to reflect on what they’ve become, or rather, what they haven’t. After almost three decades writing and performing their music, they haven’t had any hit albums, they’ve never headlined a show and are still touring in an old van and sleeping in terrible motels.

There comes a point in a musician’s life where they need to ask themselves why they are continuing to produce their work and to take a harsh look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that they will never be one of the great ones. This is a heartbreaking and unsettling thought for any individual with a dream and a plan, and The Persistent Stain does a great job at flaunting it on stage.

As I watched these two mediocre at best punk-rockers decide the next steps of their musical careers and lives, I couldn’t help but feel both empathetic but also anxious towards their predicament. The stench of their failure and stagnation was strong enough to suggest to the audience that there may be people out there who dedicate their whole lives to their dream but who never make it, seemingly wasting away in vague regret.

The stench of their failure and stagnation was strong enough to suggest to the audience that there may be people out there who dedicate their whole lives to their dream but who never make it.

Geoff and Margo’s years of experience shines through: they are excellent in their roles and commit fully to their performance, even as beer sploshed out their cans and made them giggle. Their characters have purpose and are well developed. The staging was what you would expect for a punk show as well as a fringe performance. The dialogue was funny, witty and abundant with punk-rock and music references. The songs, although gratuitously vulgar, were quirky and original. Geoff’s bass guitar skills are nowhere near Dee Dee Ramone’s and Margo is no Debbie Harry, but this actually worked in their favour, as they performed like how I would imagine The Persistent Stain performs.

This was a show designated as a work-in-progress, but it was in fact polished and can easily stand on its own as is, despite its short duration. It is true that there are questions still unanswered such as “why didn’t the band members try to better themselves over the years?” and “what kind of venue hired a punk-rock band without a drummer and lead guitarist to play a live show?” but maybe these are subject matters the completed version of The Persistent Stain will explore.

The Persistent Stain continues at the Arts Court Studio as part of the undercurrents festival and runs until February 9. Check the website for the schedule. This show is a PWYC (Pay What You Can) performance—you can pay cash only through a pass-the-hat after the show. All other undercurrents shows are $20 or $100 for a full festival pass. The show runs about 30 minutes with no intermission.