Oakham Community Theatre, a dramatic arts society serving the Ryerson community, deserved all the applause it received at the final performance of Collapse, their four-day play festival that concluded this past Saturday.
Consisting of five short plays meant to show the audience “a glimpse of five pivotal moments; an estrangement, a loss, an act of violence, an unexpected triumph and a sudden impulse,” Collapse is a spectacular show that hit all the marks of a great theatre performance. With talented actors conveying powerful emotion, perfectly timed sound, beautiful stage design and remarkable script writing, this multifaceted performance was nothing short of a triumph.
But what made this festival stand out most as a showcase of stunning showmanship was the diversity of each short play, with each addressing a different topic and setting a different tone, thereby taking the audience on a ride of captivating emotion.
The first of its performances was Warmth, written and directed by OCT’s artistic director Michael Maksimenko. The play, despite its title, managed to send shivers down my spine. It conveys the troubling story of concerned brother searching for his alcoholic sister after she went missing during a night of partying. The brother and his girlfriend visit a cabin in the North after receiving a tip that his sister may have ended up there. Upon arrival, they are met by Cameron, a mysterious, hungover fellow that the two attempt to seek answers from regarding the sister’s disappearance.
Cameron, played by Joshua Aubin, delivered a stellar performance as the shifty character, expertly maintaining a strange and nervous aura by averting his eyes from his counterparts, taking drawn-out sips of his half-empty beer bottle and occasionally stumbling into furniture. It was during the middle of the play when the audience was treated to the dynamics of both Aubin’s skill as an actor and Cameron’s character as he delivered a captivating monologue explaining his lonely life as a cabin-dweller, backed by the sounds of wind whistling during an intense winter storm. The sound design and the intensity of the actors in delivering each word of the dialogue matched beautifully to create a suspenseful and unsettling moment.
Actor James Groulx-Croteau, however, is the propeller of this disturbing narrative. His performance as Malcolm, the brother, is dynamic in every sense of the word. From a thought-provoking dialogue with his girlfriend about the darkness of alcoholism delivered with underlying sadness to the perfectly-choreographed punch he threw at Cameron, it is clear that Groulx-Croteau had an undeniable understanding of his character and his emotions throughout the performance.
Warmth is a work of art in both script and directorial style that excites me for what else is up Maksimenko’s creative sleeve.
The audience was treated next to Jaiden, the work of writer Tyler MacLaurin and first-time director Andrea Spiegel-Feld. Told through a series of individual monologues, the performance chronicles the unfortunate story of Jaiden, portrayed by Tyler Rizzuto, a young man who has fallen into a pattern of bad choices and dangerous behaviour.
Each monologue is a story from someone who has been impacted by Jaiden. The performance begins with his grandmother, played by Aidan Kokorudz, reminiscing on her grandson’s youth, before he was ever troubled. With the spotlight on Kokorudz, the actress delivered an elegant monologue with the impeccable impression of an elderly voice despite her young age.
Her performance was followed by that of a nervous university student, portrayed by Avishag Frank, explaining how she was mugged by a hooded man. While delivering the monologue, the hooded character approached her and held her captive with a knife at her side. It was a stunning choice of style for this performance, seeing both the story playout and the character’s retelling of it intersecting with one another to create a haunting display of past and present, an impressive achievement to be made in a directorial debut.
What followed Jaiden was just what the audience needed: a moment of humour to cut through the thick cloud of intensity created by the first two performances. Bounce was the perfect interjection, written and directed by OCT’s general manager Bronwen Spolsky, which conveyed the nuances of club life.
Bounce depicts a humorous dialogue between bouncers Rick and Damian, played by Tyler McLaurin and Luke Slade respectively. Rick is new to the job and Damian is a veteran subjected to Rick’s nervous series of persistent questions about the risks of being a bouncer. Both are excellent in their own right, with Slade perfectly depicting the standoffish authority of a more experienced counterpart to Rick’s skittish newbie behaviour. You can’t help but love their dynamic as Damian slowly grows fonder of Rick as they are met with the antics of typical club-goers.
Spolsky is deserving of a massive commendation for the hilarity of her script which features a club-goer, also played by Joshua Aubin, who throws up in a garbage can outside of the club and proceeds to retrieve a Tim Horton’s cup from the bottom, checking the roll-up-the-rim, and screaming out of frustration when he doesn’t win. The audience roared in laughter at this point in the performance which continued on when actresses Janet Smith and Taryn Cicchelli strutted onto the stage in nightclub attire and expertly portrayed two young women with “Valley girl” voices that spoke of millennial concerns and first-world problems.
I Knew Things Once
After the intermission, the audience was hit with the stunning performance that was I Knew Things Once, written by Daniel Goldman and directed by Jaclyn Nobrega. Throughout this captivating piece, which told the stories of the ex-girlfriend, mother and father of a suicide victim trying to come to terms with their loved one’s death, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre. Every audience member’s eyes were faced forward as characters Dean, Natalie and Audrey engaged in intense dialogue over their loss. Some audience members wiped away tears as Natalie, played by Hannah Joubert, delivered a jaw-dropping apology to Audrey who had believed she was the reason for her son’s death. Joubert erupted in tears as she delivered her lines, which truly made for a convincing depiction of loss and heartbreak.
If I could award Goldman for his heart-wrenching script, I would. His words are like poetry, conveying the looming effect of death in a hauntingly beautiful way. As a first-year creative industries student, Goldman has a talent that will take him to far places in this industry should he choose to pursue it.
The Great Circus
And last, but certainly not least, was The Great Circus. Written and directed by first-time director Katherine Ross, this performance of complete joy and hilarity kept the audience engaged until the very end. Ross tells the tale of what happens when everything goes wrong with a circus’ cast members, including a quirky snake charmer who loses her flute, a juggler who’s juggling balls get stuck to his hands and a clown plagued by her own insecurities. The Ring Leader tries to get it all together, but ultimately faces her own crisis when she loses her voice. The perfect ending to the OCT’s captivating festival, The Great Circus is a chaotic frenzy of wonder, fantasy and impressive costume design, especially the Invisible Man’s all-black Morph suit that blends with the stage backdrop — a stroke of creative genius.
A round of applause for the Oakham Community Theatre in creating a knock-out series of performances that captured some of the most profound emotions, audience-silencing moments and unforgettable characters with creative excellency.