Tremors Festival proves difficult to fault

by Glen Callender

Hold onto your arm rests, theatre-goers, because the Tremors Festival is shaking the Cultch like a screaming Italian woman in the jaws of an epileptic Tyrannosaurus Rex. In a totally good way.

The fest kicked off Tuesday with Why Not Theatre’s I’m So Close…, an ambitious hour that poses one of the Big Questions: “How did we get here?”

So Close...
“Here” variously refers to everything from our co-ordinates in the cosmos to the states of our relationships, but it is the latter meaning that dominates the narrative, as we follow the seriocomic story of a workaholic electrical engineer whose busy travel schedule places increasing strain on his marriage.

The three cast members are all excellent physical performers, and frequently use the device of speeding up repetitive actions to create impressively frenetic scenes depicting the bustle of the business world and the gradual decay of a marriage impoverished by too much time apart.

But this is also a thoroughly digital show, as multimedia elements are employed to excellent effect; the performers dart in and out from behind a large translucent screen that glows with elegant video projections illustrating how digital technology mediates their characters’ lives. Yet in spite of this high-tech backdrop, the image that appears most often on the screen predates digital technology by thousands of years—the eternally embracing pair of neolithic skeletons recently unearthed in Italy—a haunting counterpoint to the increasing separation and isolation of the living husband and wife on the stage.
eternal_embrace
A thoughtful and frequently delightful exploration of how technology designed to connect us can paradoxically push us further apart, I’m So Close… is marred only by a somewhat awkward opening monologue, which offers a facile introduction to the Big Bang and particle physics, and over-extends the question “How did we get here?” by tritely asking members of the audience what modes of transport they used to travel to the theatre. I suppose the temptation to interpret the question in every possible sense was irresistible, but I found it a mildly patronizing start to an otherwise beautiful piece of theatre.

If you’re looking for a hilariously ugly piece of theatre, on the other hand, get thee to Theatre Melee’s Cozy Catastrophe. In a derelict urban basement, four not-very-smart strangers and a rotting ham uneasily co-exist as the outside world comes to a violent demise in some kind of fiendish Godzilla-Cloverfield-zombie apocalypse. Expanded from a 15-minute playlet at Hive 2 (2008), Cozy Catastrophe now clocks in at 75 minutes—65 minutes of which is comedy gold.
Cozy Catastrophe
The show’s wide-open, killing-time-in-an-empty-room format gives the ensemble carte blanche to cut loose and play—and they work it to the hilt, alternating bursts of slapstick violence with moments of calm where the characters lapse into poignant monologues that invariably culminate in stupid and irrelevant conclusions.

It’s great, gross, gory fun, and as impressed as I am with the show in its current form, I am excited by the thought that Cozy Catastrophe has yet to reach its outer limits, and will surely mutate again into something even bigger and better. Having grown from a short piece to a solid one-act, Cozy Catastrophe now begs to be developed into an ultra-low budget sci-fi film—I say we lock this anarchic crew in a basement with a camcorder, no food and no water, and not let them out until it’s in the can.

I’m So Close… closes April 10; Cozy Catastrophe closes April 17. Full Tremors Festival details here.

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