Otherworldly spaces, unwitting celebrities, murder mysteries and tomatoes in NIF Week 3 program

nif 2015Alumnae Theatre Company opened the Week 3 program of its annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) last night. This is the final week of the fest, running until March 29 up in the studio space. Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

Rowing, Onward (by Eugenie Carabatsos, directed by Anne MacMillan). A man and a woman in a row boat, out at sea. A seemingly Sisyphean task of endlessly rowing together. How did they get here? Where have they been? And where are they going? The only thing we know for sure is they’re very tired and one of them wants to stop rowing.
A lovely, intimate short piece set in a confined space where he only sees her back and she only sees the empty horizon. Beautiful, tender and intense moments within the frustration and desperation. Lovely work from Aleksandra Maslennikova, who gives an ethereal and bright performance as the Woman, and Matthew Gouveia, the lyrical and poetic Man. Both the Man and the Woman are strong, exhausted and lost – but they know they have each other. And together, they try to find hope in the despair.

Grief Circus (by Crystal Wood, directed by Kelsey Laine Jacobson). While still in high school, Leah (Christina Leonard) becomes an unwitting – and unwilling – celebrity following the tragic death of her older sister Jessie (Jennifer-Beth Hanchar), while her mother (Stacey Iseman) dives in with a book, and guest appearances on news and talk shows. Life, death and grief in the age of the Internet, social media and media circus reporting, where private moments become public spectacle, and strangers feel compelled and entitled to comment. The process of grieving is made all the more challenging by the constant media chatter and intrusion, from inappropriate contact from well-meaning, sympathetic strangers to cruel commentary from social media trolls.

Fantastic job from the cast. Leonard’s Leah is a bright, nerdy girl in love with math and science, and acts as our guide and narrator for this story – the voice of reason throughout. Iseman’s Carol is a controlling Type A mom, with more than meets the eye going on beneath the surface as she deals with grief in her own way. Hanchar is boisterous, fun and full of sisterly wisdom as Jessie, a mindful and supportive older sister to Leah. Taylor Hammond gives a nice grounded comic performance as the awkward, clumsy Charlie, who’s somewhat dim-witted, but trying his best to be there for Leah; and nice work from Lex Darian as the intrusive, scoop-hungry Reporter.

A Death and the Marias (by Rose Napoli, directed by Clara McBride). Two women named Maria, a murder mystery and a whole lotta tomatoes in this delightful, short two-hander. In a small Italian town, a young groom is murdered on the steps of the church on his wedding day and the bride has gone missing. Sitting on the stoop of their home (they’re sisters-in-law) near the church, the two Marias cut tomatoes in preparation for making sauce as they speak with an unseen homicide detective. These two ladies see everything from their spot on the stairs – and some of it is even relevant to the investigation.

Marvelous use of half mask for this dark comic murder mystery and look at small town Italian life. The two Marias are delicious gossips and storytellers: Connie Guccione’s Maria Teresa is outspoken and suffers no fools, the alpha of the pair, while Margaret Sellers’ Maria Sara is a sweet, child-like soul and Maria Teresa’s sidekick. Also: gorgeous use of projection on the studio crescent window, transforming it into the stained glass window of the church.

Friends with Benefits (by Neil Naft, directed by Donald Molnar). First, get your minds out of the gutter – while there are frequent visits between a man and a woman, there are no booty calls in this play.

A charming tale of a young case worker (Carina Cojeen as Ariel), just back on the job after a troubling incident, who is assigned an unusual social benefits client: an elderly man (Luciano Iogno as John) who claims to have six dependents at home. And things really get weird when she visits his rural home to check out the situation for herself. All the while, Ariel must prove herself at the office while under the watchful eye of her boss Beverly (Diana Franz). A fantastic, fun story of a strange new world and friends that come into Ariel’s life, just when she seems to need it.

The cast does a nice job balancing the realism and fantasy of the piece. Cojeen’s Ariel is a kind and compassionate young woman with the edge of someone dealing with a troubled past, but she can’t find the heart to leave an old man with no support. Iogno give us an ornery and solitary, but likeable, old guy in John. Diana Franz, as Beverly, finds a nice balance as Ariel’s boss – brisk and business-like, and not entirely unfeeling, but finds herself at the end of her patience with Ariel’s handling of this case file. Nice job from Neila Lem as the no-nonsense, affable, multitasking Shopkeeper.

Otherworldly spaces, unwitting celebrities, murder mysteries and tomatoes – all in Alumnae Theatre’s NIF 2015 Week 3 program.

The Week 3 program also includes a one-time only reading of The Creases in My Sari (by Sindhuri Nandhakumar, directed by Joanne Williams) at noon on March 28.

The NIF Week 3 program continues in the Alumnae Studio until March 29, including matinées on March 28 and 29 (please note the 2:30 curtain time), and a talkback following the March 28 matinée.

Check out the details on the Week 3 lineup here; you can purchase tickets in advance here – a good idea, as this is a popular festival. In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek as you enjoy the Week 3 trailer:

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Author: life with more cowbell

Arts/culture social bloggerfly & Elwood P. Dowd disciple. Likes playing with words. A lot. Toronto

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