FireWorks: Divine Wrecks a heartbreaking & powerful tale of forbidden love – erotic, wickedly funny & engaging

Fleur Jacobs & Hugh Ritchie in Divine Wrecks - photo by Bruce Peters
Fleur Jacobs & Hugh Ritchie in Divine Wrecks – photo by Bruce Peters

A high school hockey god falls in love with the wrong girl: his teacher, who falls right back at him. And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than a wrong love that feels so right.

Alumnae Theatre opened its third annual FireWorks series to a packed house in the Studio last night, the three-show program launching with Chloë Whitehorn’s Divine Wrecks, directed by Pamela Redfern, assisted by Melissa Chetty.

Divine Wrecks is a contemporary take on a classic story of forbidden love. Eddy (Hugh Ritchie) is the new kid at school, his arrival deliciously anticipated by his classmates (who also serve as the play’s Chorus: Annelise Hawrylak, Megan O’Kelly, Michael Pearson and Luis Guillermo Villar), who view him as a mysterious stranger with a tragic past (he was involved in a car accident and the other driver, who was the one at fault, was killed). Enter their English teacher Cass (Fleur Jacobs) and Eddy, a star athlete with a reputation for being a player, is undone. And despite his gruff, macho exterior and challenges with expressing his feelings – and perhaps because of it – Eddy and Cass find a deep emotional connection that blossoms into a secret affair. And, of course, it’s all going to end in tears.

Ritchie and Jacobs have remarkable chemistry as the secret lovers. Ritchie’s Eddy is a bit of a Renaissance man, wise beyond his years – perhaps largely due to his recent personal tragedy – a popular student and skilled hockey player, well-read and articulate, and apparently an adept lover. Eddy is an old romantic soul despite his jockish, pretty boy bravado – and Ritchie does a nice job with revealing the layers of struggle, frustration, longing and despair. Jacobs is lovely as Cass, smart, good-natured and funny – an engaging teacher who is both genuine with and protective of her students, which makes her emerging feelings for Eddy all the more agonizing for her. Cass really wants to do the right thing, keep her job and maintain her integrity, but finds herself unable to resist the draw to Eddy – and Jacobs does an excellent job with Cass’s inner conflict as the undeniable attraction between Cass and Eddy breaks through any sense of decorum, morality or rules to the tender, fragile place that lies beneath.

The Chorus: Megan O'Kelly, Luis Guillermo Villar, Annelise Hawrylak & Michael Pearson in Divine Wrecks - photo by Bruce Peters
The Chorus: Megan O’Kelly, Luis Guillermo Villar, Annelise Hawrylak & Michael Pearson in Divine Wrecks – photo by Bruce Peters

The Chorus is marvelous. Far from being bit players, these four (they are numbered rather than named) are contemporary archetypes and the modern-day embodiment of the classical Chorus, ever watchful and always commenting. One, the Jock (Pearson): tall, muscular, jersey-wearing, wise-cracking hockey player. Two, the Cheerleader (Hawrylak): bubbly and extroverted, entitled, superficial and a bit dim. Three, the Rebel (O’Kelly): punk-styled, free-spirited loner with a fuck-you attitude who’s smarter than you think, mostly because she plays it close to the chest. Four, the Nerd (Villar): socially awkward, nervous, flood-panted and bespectacled, whip smart and asthmatic. They add some much needed comic relief to this unfolding tragedy, and pose important questions and thoughts. They could see it coming – and someone should do something. But what could they do? Shifting between titillating gossip and moments of moral and ethical commentary, they are us. They say what the audience is thinking – and they even sometimes speak directly to us.

The 1950s-inspired staging (the doo-wop soundtrack and a cappella Chorus bits) and design (shouts to Peter DeFreitas for the fabulous 50s-inspired costumes) add an extra layer of romance, even innocence, and vintage style to the production.

Divine Wrecks is a heartbreaking and powerful tale of forbidden love – erotic, wickedly funny and engaging.

The first of three shows featured in the 2015 FireWorks program, Divine Wrecks runs until Nov 8 in the Alumnae Theatre Studio; you can purchase tix in advance online or one hour before performance time at the box office (cash only). The Studio is an intimate space, so advance booking is strongly recommended for all FireWorks shows.

The FireWorks program also features a series of ‘Behind the Curtain’ post-show talk-backs after every performance – except for opening nights, when the audience is invited to join the cast and crew for a reception in the Alumnae Theatre lobby. Coming up next in the FireWorks program: Cottage Radio, by Taylor Marie Graham (Nov 11-15) and Radical, by Charles Hayter (Nov 18-22).

You can keep up with the goings on at Alumnae via Facebook and Twitter.

In the meantime, you can check out the Alumnae blog interviews with playwright Whitehorn and director Redfern – and the Divine Wrecks trailer:

Perception, alternate & artificial realities, & memories masked in New Ideas Week Three program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Another exceptionally strong program of short plays at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) this week – Week Three, the final week of the fest.

Here’s what’s on the menu for Week Three:

Polish Your Pole, performed by Brenda Somers, is a hilariously funny, innuendo-filled pre-show piece in the upper lobby, featuring – you guessed it – what remains of the Firehall No. 4 fire pole across from the box office. Somers is brilliant in this very short piece, an added big fun element of the fest with one final performance tonight at 7:30 p.m. Always thought that pole was going underutilized. And it now has a name.

Airport Tale, by Carol Libman and directed by Carys Lewis, has a travelling senior citizen getting some life advice from an unlikely source when she’s detained at the airport. Jane Carnwath is a delight as the feisty, no nonsense Evalina Appelgee, and Andy Perun is sweet as the affable, flummoxed young airport bureaucrat Roger.

Would You Do It Again?, by Rebecca Grace and directed by Sandra Banman, is a futuristic peek at options for dealing with broken marriages as Hank and Wanda take some extreme measures to save theirs via an artificial intelligence unit named Chip. The Controller fills us in on the eternal sunshine of the forgetful mind as the play unfolds. Nice work by a very strong ensemble cast: Tim McConnell gives workaholic lawyer Hank some nice complex layers of tenderness and romance; and Sara Price does a lovely job of navigating Wanda’s inner conflict and sense of loss. Patrick Murray is deliciously campy and arrogant as the Controller, and Youness Tahiri is charmingly cocky and handsome as the Hank-infused Chip. What do you purge, and what do you keep or alter?

Simprov, by Laurence Klavan and directed by Stephanie Williams, finds Marjorie searching for escape in an artificial reality, which she may direct for a limited time and at significant financial cost. Dana Thody brings a great sense of desperate, energized purpose to Marjorie; and Buddy Black gives her boyfriend Alan a complex combination of pain, anger and drive to save her. Loriel Medynski and director Williams, who stepped in as a replacement actor, were marvelous as the two artificial reality actors – spunky, funny and sexy. How far will we go to escape our own lives?

Pit Sublime, by Alexandra Watt Simpson and directed by Pamela Redfern, is a grown-up fairy tale of withdrawal and denial, and put me in mind of the Paper Bag Princess through the looking glass. Charlotte is the Queen of vermin, barricaded in her world of trash, rhymes and personal baggage. Storming the battlements is Felix, a fierce young friend who must fight to break through Charlotte’s barriers. Rebecca Liddiard’s Charlotte is a remarkable, whirling ball of energy, engaging and drawing us in, even as she tries to push us away. (My pal Kerri MacDonald took on the role of her secretary at one point after she requested a volunteer from the audience.) And Andrew Gaunce’s Felix is wonderfully nerdy, loyal and relentless in his cause to save his friend from herself. Both handle the language with mercurial skill. Extremely entertaining, touching – and even educational – this play would also work very well with a young adult audience.

Perception, alternate and artificial realities, memories buried and secrets masked – the NIF Week Three program continues until tomorrow (Mar 30), with two performances today and one tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Week Three reading of Rotating Thunderstorm, by Taylor Marie Graham and directed by Jill Harper, goes up at noon today.

Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival. Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.