The audience really can set the mood for an evening. Despite the casual, backroom feel of the Havana Theatre (or maybe because of it) Tomo Suru Players’ About Love Festival was received with enthusiasm and generosity. The sold-out house had a supportive community feel that gave the actors the permission to throw themselves into this quirky collection of short plays.
The premise was simple - each play, selected from over 200 submissions in 9 different countries, could not be more than 10 minutes and had to be about (you guessed it!) love, in whatever iteration it might manifest. The tone of each play varied wildly and often shifted drastically from one to the next, broken up only by a folksy duo of live acoustic guitars playing gentle love songs. The directing styles were also in stark contrast with one another - hyper-realist, sitcom-like, melodramatic, stark and lonely, and some almost balletic. Despite these differences, the audience was asked to vote for their favourite actors and plays. Judges will make the final decision and award special prizes at the end of the festival. I truly appreciate theatrical events of this nature. It creates opportunities for a slew of up-and-coming directors, performers and writers to showcase their skills and hone their craft in a relaxed and low-pressure setting, while still being adjudicated and receiving beneficial feedback.
If I had to choose my favourites, one would be the hilarious and vulgar “Carrots, Baby” by local writer Allyson Fournier, directed and performed with perfect pacing and energy by Justin Anthony (director), Rhea Casido, Haris Amiri and James Challis (the actors). “The Off-Chance” also had me smiling throughout, thanks to the cosmic chemistry of Mallory James and Elijah Silva. The clever conceit of “Small and Almost Honest” could have felt gimmicky, but was treated delicately enough to effective by director Tricia Trinh and the four women portraying two lovers.
So what does this series of short plays (compared to speed-dating by Artistic Director Gerald Williams, and with good reason) have to say About Love? That is difficult to quantify. It will be different for everyone. Each audience member will get something out of it, but almost certainly will see themselves in at least one of the stories.
One thing that struck me as we moved through these diverse stories and characters was how few of them had healthy relationships. Fair enough, as happy love stories don’t exactly make for compelling drama. Who wants to see two happy, emotionally mature people in love and content with their lives? Instead we got blind dates, chance encounters, emotional abuse, entitlement, perversion, obsession, dissatisfied people who settle, and loved ones dead or dying. These are all warped and subverted versions of real love - some might argue that love is lacking in many of these relationships.
That being said, my own personal definition of love might be too broad or too narrow. Insightful moments in “ROAD” and “Miserable” come from characters realizing that they haven’t experienced real love yet and will continue searching until they do. The sweetest, most honest look at the cost of loving someone so completely was a scene between a father and a child in Deanna Kruger’s “Paul and Petandra”. Whether it is infatuation or true love, it is up to us and those we love to define what we believe love to be.
It’s a emotional roller coaster ride of an evening, with plenty of laughs, thoughts provoked, and a gut-punch or two. I look forward to hearing the results and I hope the run is successful enough that this model can continue to be replicated. There was certainly plenty of love between the audience and performers on the night I attended, and that love facilitated some unforgettable theatre.
For information and tickets
Tomo Suru Players presents A Festival of Short Plays: About Love at the Havana Theatre until June 18, 2017.