New Ideas – week three reading

Hey again – Since I had to spend Saturday at home in my jammies, I enlisted back-up writer/guest blogger Tina McCulloch to write about the week three reading. Here’s what she had to say…

Hello, guest blogger [Tina McCulloch] here, with a report on the Week Three reading (March 27) – last day of the New Ideas Festival. Weightless is a series of scenes and monologues, some inter-connected, adapted from writer Kelsey Blair’s own short stories, and beautifully directed by Ramona Gilmour-Darling.

The audience is greeted by Temptation (David J. Phillips), who is knitting a scarf for one of the other Vices. He entertains us with a wonderfully witty piece, talking about all the changes he’s had to go through. “I’m versatile,” he points out. “I spent the entire Victorian era perfecting the art of ankle seduction.” And on his most famous incarnation: “I have very fond memories of my time as an apple.”

Then sisters Nancy (Lada Darewych) and Renee (Judy DaSilva, previously seen as the long-absent mother in Week One’s A Very Different Place) attempt a reconciliation after a family feud. It seems that glamourous Renee, who favours “heels that are murder weapons,” as her more practical sister sniffs, made a damaging remark about the weight of Nancy’s young daughter – in front of the child.

Another monologue features David Borwick as middle-aged Roy, a happily married father who has a panic attack in a grocery store when he spots the girl who tortured him at age 11 by dubbing him “Fat Roy.” “Like all pre-teen girls, you were innately evil,” he muses. “I was one of dozens of people you permanently scarred that year.” Roy’s monologue is intercut with Jill’s (Tracey Beltrano). She’s in a mall food court with a gun – and a friend who’s just asked a dangerous question: “Do you think I look fat?”

Although this was a staged reading – meaning that the actors had scripts in their hands and only minimal blocking – there were two moments of directorial brilliance that made me catch my breath.

One was when several non-speaking actors linked their arms and hands to suggest the glass walls and windows of the hospital isolation unit through which Sandra (Claire Acott) was watching her premature baby girl and bargaining with God. They then raised their arms like parking garage barriers to allow Sandra to push open the “doors” to hold her baby. Simple and beautiful.

The final monologue featured Amy Myers as Jenna, the teenage daughter of Renee (she of the killer heels). It is the day of Jenna’s sister’s funeral, and Renee has suggested that Jenna write a letter to her. Jo died of anorexia, it turns out. Jenna alternately rages and mourns, and in the other moment of directorial brilliance, lights come up subtly on a hospital gown on the other side of the stage (discarded in a previous monologue by Tom Haxell as a young cancer patient who longs to savour chocolate again). Spread across a “bed,” the gown looks as if the person inside it has just disintegrated. “Dear Jo,” writes Jenna, in the final line of the play. “You got what you always wanted. You’re finally…weightless.”

At the talkback following the performance, some audience members wanted Temptation – the concept of which is different for everyone – to be more present in each of the stories. Writer Kelsey Blair responded that Temptation was originally intended to be a bridge between the stories (in fact, he appeared in this staging as a waiter in Nancy and Renee’s restaurant meeting, and as a hospital aide for the cancer patient), but she wanted to avoid the perception of Temptation as narrator. When Blair jokingly said that she envisioned Temptation, Greed, Guilt, Lust and all the other Vices living together in one big house, an audience member urged, “Write that, please!”

If Weightless is remounted, go see it: great script, sensitive direction, superb cast. And keep an eye out for the work of Kelsey Blair, in print or staged. She’s worth watching. That play about the Vices would be hilarious.

Sounds like I missed another good one. With thanks (again) to Tina McCulloch.

And that, folks, is a wrap for New Ideas 2010. Stay tuned for our upcoming production of The Queens

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