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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A topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world in entertaining Fever/Dream

Full Cast Promo PhotoOut at the theatre one more time last night – this time, to The Jumblies Ground Floor for Seven Siblings Theatre’s Canadian premiere of Sheila Callaghan’s Fever/Dream, directed by Will King, assisted by Madryn McCabe. I saw Seven Siblings’ dramatic, violent and compelling production of Mercury Fur last year – and this exciting young company goes for the edge while venturing into the comic side of a surreal world in Fever/Dream.

An adaptation of Pedro Calderón’s Life Is a Dream, Callaghan set Fever/Dream in present-day America, where the king is President Bill Basil (Mladen Obradovic), the head of a corporate empire in his 77-foot tall office tower palace.

It is in the bowels of the tower that we first see Segis, our young protagonist (Trevor Ketcheson), seated and unconscious at his desk. His hair and beard long and unkempt, his clothing torn and filthy, he resembles a castaway more than an office worker. Prisoner, more like it. The phone receiver seems permanently attached to his hand and he is chained to the desk, his daily food rations dispensed from a trap door in the wall near the ceiling. The only words he can seem to speak are the scripted lines of apology and transfer action – he is a customer service rep. His lack of human contact becomes apparent with the arrival of Rose (Olivia Orton) and Claire (Alexandra Simpson), who’ve become lost in the building. The two girls are soon busted by the office manager Fred (Dylan Mawson) and are sentenced to working in the office.

President Bill Basil is seriously ill and has decided to retire; but instead of passing the reins to his two top managers Stella (Geneviève Trottier) and Aston (Peter Jarvis), he has decided to pass the job along to his secret son, with Stella and Aston as Plan B. Guess who the secret son is. Add to the mix a chorus of multitasking actors playing security guards, accountants and vlogging associates (Karina Bradfield, Zenna Davis-Jones and Courtney Keir), and you have a recipe for a wacky tale of chain reaction events and secrets revealed in a crazy, satirical look at corporate culture.

King and McCabe have a sharp, engaging cast for this underdog trip down the rabbit hole – or, in this case, up the office tower. Ketcheson does a marvelous job as Segis, going from a feverish grasping for language and meaning to rising up as he discovers love and purpose; lost and disoriented, he struggles to find his way even as he grapples with his own emotions in a strange new world. And is it all even real? Orton gives Rose a sharp sense a drive and commitment; wry-witted and resourceful, she too has a secret agenda and is forced to deal with a surprise discovery of her own. As Rose’s chirpy roommate Claire, Simpson does a bang-up job as the super positive and loyal sidekick, transferring these skills to her job as the perfect office temp; but when she realizes that hers is a Sisyphean task, that bubbly personality boils over. Jarvis is a slick piece of work as Aston, the classic all sizzle and no steak equation, but with people skills that complement Stella, who is more qualified but short on soft skills. Trottier shines as Stella, a brilliant but icy dragon lady, a Harvard and Wharton grad frustrated by corporate sexism, and finding herself melting into her warm feelings for the new boss. Obradovic brings a regal ruthlessness to Basil, moved by vengeance to disown and banish his own son to the basement, only to promote the unprepared Segis in an act of hubris in order to continue his bloodline. As Basil’s right-hand man Fred, Mawson is a chilling master of corporate speak, executing Basil’s every whim and cleaning up messes with clock-like precision and accuracy; but, like Stella, he is not without a soft spot.

Chorus members Bradfield, Davis-Jones and Keir are multitasking machines, executing set changes in character and shifting from security detail to accountants to vlogging 20-something associates and back again with skill and style; they may be representing the lowly drones of the business – but work doesn’t get done without worker bees. And their daily workday lives of white noise get turned up to 11 when they find inspiration in Segis.

Whether peasant or king – worker drone or president – we all must come to grips with our own mortality. Absolute power corrupts absolutely – so aptly illustrated in Segis’s caricature behaviour in his brief time as president, becoming a tyrant despite his good intentions.

With shouts to some excellent staging and design. The white, sterile set with its secret doors (Stephen King); the back scrim projections (Will King) of skyline and industrial cogs add to the surreal, industrial atmosphere; and the hopeful sound of water burbles up through white noise, and office machine lights, beeps and squeals (Parker Nowlan). The slow, romantic ocean fantasy sequences (choreographer Rosslyn King) and retirement party pandemonium (fight choreographer Annemieke Wade) are highly evocative and entertaining, moving and dream-like.

Fever/Dream is a topsy-turvy look at the bizarre dynamics of the corporate world, fueled by a fine, high-energy cast.

Fever/Dream continues at The Jumblies Ground Floor until May 31. NOTE: Jumblies is located at 132 Fort York Blvd., a bit east of Bathurst – Google searches may direct you to the Scarborough location and Google Maps shows the address as west of Bathurst (don’t go there!). You can purchase advance tix online here.