Boys to men in raw, darkly funny & thoughtful look at losing, friendship & fundraising in Rowing

Courtney Keir, Madeleine Brown & Andrew Markowiak in Rowing - photo by Jordan Laffrenier
Courtney Keir, Madeleine Brown & Andrew Markowiak in Rowing – photo by Jordan Laffrenier

Went to a new, alternative rehearsal/performance venue last night to see the opening of Then They Fight’s production of Aaron Jan’s Rowing (directed by Jan) last night at The Fort Studios (1425 Yonge St.).

Despondent, enraged, frustrated and humiliated over a loss, the four young men of the Westdale rowing team sit in their shared hotel room in St. Catharines, solitary and silent. Rock music plays and a banner droops on the wall. All the beer and Springsteen in the world cannot soothe their collective and individual agony. What was to be a post-Henley race celebration/birthday party and Heart & Stroke fundraising event has become a poorly attended wake for the team – and their lives. And as the questions, blame and anger swirl, destruction and chaos ensue.

Really nice work from the cast in this exploration of manhood and success. Crew captain Mark (Zach Parkhurst) is explosive in his rage, mortified that he and the team have failed to continue his proud family legacy and shaming his inherited position on the team – and he’s broiling with thoughts of revenge. The oldest member of the crew, Howie (Drew O’Hara) is about to age out at 26, and has been holding out huge hopes that his five years of blood, sweat and tears on the team would amount to something; the good looking one on the crew, he’s pissed off big time – horny, drunk and looking for some consolation release as he paces the room like a caged animal. The small, home-schooled and child-like Jake (Madeleine Brown) is the crew’s birthday boy; a timid, curious and bright introvert, he’s desperate for his father’s pride and approval as he undertakes a fundraising drive to save the local HSF branch that his father runs. Trying to keep it all together is coxswain Rick (Andrew Markowiak), recently dumped by his girlfriend Clara (Courtney Keir, who brings a driven, grown-up and proactive quality), who’s left him for an older, more mature guy; he’s lost, desperate and out to prove his maturity to win her back.

Add to the mix former crew mate Chris (Lauren Griffiths), a ballsy, brave and direct – sometimes brutally – young woman who moved to Toronto and joined a rival team, but whose heart draws her back to the Westdale crew; and Wyatt (Francois MacDonald), the icy tough, street smart leader of a Toronto crew of young offenders who has a serious beef with Westdale – and the Westdale team must get their shit together, make some choices and take action.

The four Westdale crew mates are each struggling in his own way with preconceived notions of adulthood, success and what it means to be – and what constitutes – a man. The Hamilton they live in is so different than the Hamilton their well-off parents knew – a depressed economy and a downtown core that’s become a ghost town, there is not a lot of hope to be had in their environment. Friendship and loyalties are put to the test – and all are faced with the choice to continue on their present course or turn it around for the better.

Boys to men in this raw, darkly funny and thoughtful look at losing, friendship and fundraising in Rowing.

Rowing continues at The Fort until Oct 17; it’s an intimate space with limited seating, so advance booking strongly recommended (also see the tix link for exact dates/times).

Please note: Although The Fort’s address is 1425 Yonge St. (Yonge/St. Clair E.), the entrance is on St. Clair E., on the south side, between the McDonald’s and 1 St. Clair E. – look out for the signs and the peeps with the oars who will be happy to guide you along your way.

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Love & violence in a world gone to hell in Mercury Fur

MFUR-10Seven Siblings Theatre Company’s opened its Canadian premiere of Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, directed by Will King and assistant director Madryn McCabe (two of the three co-founders of Seven Siblings, along with Erika Downie), at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Set in a post-apocalyptic city in a time very close to present day – too close for comfort – Mercury Fur reveals a world turned savage and lawless, where everyday people are forced go to extreme measures to survive roving gangs, riots and looting. Brothers Elliot (Cameron Laurie) and Darren (Andrew Markowiak) work for Spinx (Mishka Thébaud), dealing in hallucinogenic – and sometimes dangerous – drugs in the form of butterflies, sometimes purchased with stolen antiquities. For some, the virtual fantasies that play out in the mind under the influence of butterflies aren’t enough – and so Spinx and his crew also arrange “parties” for clients who play top dollar to have their deepest, darkest fantasies realized, in real time with real people.

The story that unfolds is brutal and beautiful, cruel and tender – violence and love weave in and out between the characters, some struggling to recall more decent, peaceful times while others long to forget. The language is both lyrical and extremely violent; words are both weapons and tools of seduction. Violence and sex intermingle into fetishism, and anecdotes of horrific memories are told with emotional detachment or adventure story excitement. The sharing of good memories offers a brief emotional oasis from past and present terrors.

The directing team has a very strong cast for this often intensely dark theatrical journey. As older brother Elliot, the brains and head of his fractured, broken family, Laurie does a lovely job with the complex range of emotions – by turns harsh and tender, sharply focused and hopelessly lost. Andrew Markowiak’s Darren is both comic and heartbreaking; a simple, child-like youth, broken both physically and psychologically by events and butterfly consumption. Like Darren, the brothers’ new friend and co-worker Naz is drug-addled but sweet, longing for connection and a new family to replace the one he’s lost to violence – a nicely well-rounded performance from Adrian Beattie. Eric Rich is both fiercely streetwise and warmly kind-hearted as Lola. Thébaud is compelling as the gang leader, cold and cruel, but protective of his pack – especially the Duchess. Annemieke Wade’s Duchess is beautifully fragile and damaged, struggling to hold onto some sense of gentility and grace in the wild carelessness of this horrific new world. As the Party Piece, Kenneth Collins is delicately vulnerable in the boy’s stoned and sick state. And D. Gingerich does a really nice job as the Party Guest, a repugnant and callous sociopath with friends in high places, caught between his desire for blood and the fear of a rat on a sinking ship.

Stephen King’s set, a boarded up, abandoned flat in an apartment block – with its deep red outer walls, stone centre wall with a fireplace mantle, deep brown leather furniture, and lack of electricity and hot water – shows us what urban life has come to, but also acts as a reminder of a more civilized world. A world many of us take for granted. Parker Nowlan (lighting and sound) sets the scene with an eerie, industrial soundscape and gives us a gradual sundown throughout the play, the darkening of the sky running parallel with the increasingly dark action onstage.

Seven Siblings’ production of Mercury Fur is a deeply disturbing, moving and darkly funny look at violence and love in a world gone to hell.

You can also follow Seven Siblings Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for this dynamic young company. Mercury Fur continues its run at Unit 102 Theatre until September 6 – click here for advance tix.