This past weekend, the English and Drama Student Society hosted their festival of one act plays. The two-day festival took place in the Erindale Studio Theatre and featured five plays that were all written, directed, and performed by UTM students. This year, the festival featured an overwhelming number of first and second year students, many of which were first-time writers and directors on the cusp of finding their artistic voices. As one would expect, the shows were rough around the edges, speckled with bits of unnecessary dialogue and black out scene transitions, but each show managed to have moments of clarity, maturity and vision that spoke to the talent and potential of their creators.

The festival kicked off with False Dichotomy. Written by Christopher Kovaliv and directed by Clara Lambert, False Dichotomy is unavoidably controversial. Set in hell, the show places four of histories most notorious killers, Adolf Hitler (Derek Brockbank), Jeffery Dahmer (Oliver Parkins), Elizabeth Bathory (Daniella Dela Peña) and Timothy McVeigh (Kenneth Johnson), around a poker table and asks them to confront the crimes they committed on Earth. Each killer believes they are some how superior to their peers, and they justify the intention behind their crimes, but when Lucifer (Clara Lambert) joins them at the table, their sense of superiority begins to waver. This provocative play dares to ask whether there is truly a clear dichotomy between right and wrong. The show ends with the devil offering a seat at the table to anyone from the audience who believes they can definitively tell the difference. This production features a strong cast of villains, and contains a number of lively stage images, but, like many shows in this festival, it runs a bit long and could benefit from some paring down in order to strengthen the bold claims that the show is attempting to make.

Under Pressure, written and directed by Bronwyn Keough, is a raw depiction of adolescent life. The script carries the tone and cadence of a sixteen-year old’s diary. The show features beautiful moments of variability and candid performances from its cast. The show deals with everything from alcoholism to homelessness to suicide and these topics are handled with a great deal of earnestness, but occasionally, the overlapping of the themes and storylines becomes muddled. This is a beautifully thoughtful show that might benefit from a bit of tightening.

Christina Orjalo made her EDSS directorial debut last semester with a modern retelling of Susan Galspell’s Trifles, and she continues to build a strong repertoire of female lead work as a director and playwright with Luke 7:47. The play takes place in a recreation space within a women’s prison. Sister Sylvia, played by Amilia Woolfrey, attempts to get a group of inmates to open up about their past and turn to the lord for forgiveness. She takes a particular interest in Mary, a new inmate who is awaiting her final sentencing for the murder of her husband and son. The play explores what it means to be forgiven when you can’t even bear to forgive yourself. There was a clear chemistry among the ensemble. Beverly, played by Ally Matas and Lola, played by Gina Montani, played off of each other well. Their wry banter set the tone for the other female relationships in the play. Elif Coskun’s Molly, a woman recently released from solitary confinement, was equally fragile and frightening. Her unpredictable shifts in mood were as heartbreaking as they were hilarious. She managed to be a beautiful counterbalance to the tight knit group of convicts introduced in the opening scene. Christina Orjalo solidifies her directorial style and further proves her talent for directing a well-balanced ensemble of women. 

M&M, written by Aria Sharma and directed by Muhaddisah Batool, is a domestic drama that delves into the psychology of a man caught up in an extra-marital affair. The show takes on the task of reflecting the real and the imagined within the same space. In the moments when these images clearly overlapped, the show was evocative and humorous. The symbolism wasn’t always clear, however, and occasionally it was hard to discern what was meant to be real and what was meant to be imagined. Overall, M&M was a sweetly unsettling glimpse at an idyllic domestic life on the brink of decay.

Ethan Ryckman closed off the evening with his play Bad Guys. This metatheatrical supervillain farce was arguably the biggest hit of the night. Best friends and henchman Eric (Austin Chiasson) and Erika (Bénédicte Mbaididje) serve the bumbling supervillain Uber Mort (Marissa Monk). When Eric witnesses a girl (Nina Richards) getting bullied in the park, he convinces Erika and Uber Mort to take her on as a new hench person. Fast pace, satirical and witty, Bad Guys playfully pokes fun at the superhero genre. Bad Guys subverts audience expectation and pushes the boundaries of classic gags while also throwing in timely self-aware social commentary. Bad Guys is a great example of how to make social critiques a seamless, cohesive part of a light-hearted comedy. Austin Chiasson gave the stand out performance of the night. His sweet, dopey sidekick character was magnetic and established Chiasson as a natural born comedian. Whether a joke was base and crude or pointed and clever, he kept the audience captivated without ever missing a beat. Ethan Ryckman’s Bad Guy’s brings a cartoon like sensibility to the stage in a delightfully original way.

The EDSS Festival of One Acts ran from March 29-30.

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