Readings of six, ten-minute plays from local playwrights
Review by Arden Phillips
On October 1 in the heart of Edmonton’s Old Strathcona neighbourhood, The Grindstone Theatre featured its second annual EdmonTEN, an evening of “economic storytelling” through readings of six, ten-minute plays from local playwrights.
Hosted by Edmonton’s own Short & Suite Collective, comprised of dramaturg Tracy Carroll and playwrights Conni Massing and Michele Vance Hehir, EdmonTEN made its debut online in 2020 and made a successful return this year, offering both online and in-person viewing opportunities.
The event showcased the talents of four local actors; Daniela Fernandez, Beth Graham, Corben Kushneryk, and Josh Languedoc, who boasted breadth and variety in their performances of multiple roles apiece. The ensemble of actors shared the Grindstone’s intimate blackbox stage in a wash of warm light, perched on barstools with music stands supporting the scripts in front of them.
The advertising of EdmonTEN had lead me to believe that the evening was going to feature fully-staged productions of each piece, so I was surprised to see the minimal technical elements and an ensemble donning their street clothes. However, the evening’s subsequent performances made up for my momentary disappointment.
The first play of the night was Alexandria Fortier’s Not Yet; a poignant and darkly humorous portrayal of love, loss, and grief. The play follows a conversation between Blake, who is hovering in the void between life and death, and their departed lover, Alex. While Fernandez and Graham’s performances as Blake and Alex, respectively, felt uncharacteristically stiff (which could be owed to COVID’s physical distancing requirements or The Grindstone’s limited stage space), Fortier’s raw and earnest dialogue shone through.
The Dark Web by Nicole Moeller is a black comedy about an overworked mother who tasks an undertaker with faking her death to start a new life without the burden of her screaming infant. Graham’s portrayal of the comically-in-over-her-head new mother was an exciting counter to Kushernyk’s straight-faced undertaker, and the pair brought Moeller’s piece to professional sketch comedy-level comedic heights. Full of dark humour and levity, Moeller’s piece was a standout in the evening’s lineup.
Next was My First Greek Sunset by Amanda Samuelson. The play follows Maya, a young Canadian student visiting Greece for the first time. Maya is travelling alone, and when she meets Antonio, a 40-something retired dancer from Italy, he capitalizes on her vulnerability.
While I felt that the play could have benefitted from a trigger warning for its content involving implied sexual and physical violence, Samuelson’s words struck a chord and induced a hush over the audience. Daniela Fernandez and Josh Languedoc — as Maya and Antonio, respectively — demonstrated an impressive chemistry which inspired suspense and unease as Maya’s fate unravelled before us.
Zack Siesmagraff’s Same Time Tomorrow is a Samuel Beckett-esque exchange between two squabbling seniors, featuring the use of comedic repetition to emphasize the pair’s mutual irritation with one another. The cyclical and repetitious nature of Siesmagraff’s piece hearkens back to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, another play featuring two elderly gentlemen exploring themes of futility and the existential nature of their contentiousness. Kushneryk and Languedoc’s portrayal of the seniors boasted an impressive volleying of rapid dialogue and a chemistry that made audiences wonder for just how long those two gentlemen had been irritated with each other.
Clippers by Gavin Wilkes, the evening’s standout drama, follows a pair of Indigenous youth, Ernest and Tom, as they explore an abandoned cabin in the woods and meanwhile their ties to their cultural heritage.
In the stage directions, Ernest (Kushernyk) is described as being adorned in traditional Indigenous dress, with long hair which demonstrates his connection to the land and his ancestors. Tom (Languedoc), on the other hand, wears his hair short, and dons western attire that signifies a deliberate detachment from his culture.
As Ernest and Tom find a pair of gleaming silver hair clippers in the cabin, the pair begin to discuss the significance of their hair, their culture, and of the clippers themselves, as Tom slowly exercises power over Ernest and eventually persuades him to shave his long hair.
I interpreted these events as a representation of colonialism’s violent and pervasive assimilation tactics inflicted upon Indigenous peoples. Layered and haunting, Wilkes’ Clippers told a crucial and historically-smothered narrative fraught with anti-colonialist themes.
By far the evening’s most unexpected and delightfully absurd piece was Calla Wright’s Hair, But No Teeth. Wright introduces us to a cast of three friends (Graham, Kushneryk, and Languedoc) expressing their distaste towards a mutual friend (Fernandez) and her relationship with the mysterious “Bianca.”
As Fernandez’ character enters with a bassinet in tow, we are lead to believe that the source of her friends’ disgust is a particularly unruly baby. That is, until we begin to discover that Bianca is not, in fact, a human infant, but something a little more Lovecraftian.
It was evident that the cast took a similar sense of bizarre glee from Wright’s absurdist piece — a testament to Wright’s narrative mastery — and seeing actors truly enjoying themselves onstage makes theatre an altogether more engaging experience. Thrillingly morbid, Wright’s Hair But No Teeth was perhaps the most memorable play of the evening.
While I would have preferred to see a fully staged production of each piece rather than a casual reading, the talented cast of young actors brought the lineup of plays to life in a way that made me forget I was sitting in the Grindstone’s tiny blackbox. Portraying a meaningful and linear narrative in ten minutes is no easy feat, and EdmonTEN’s team of playwrights achieved this brilliantly. The evening was unlike any theatre event I have experienced before, and being able to explore such diverse stories in one evening was a privilege.
EdmonTEN’s diverse lineup offered something for every Edmonton theatregoer, from an absurdist theatre piece featuring a flesh-eating dermoid cyst in a baby stroller to a provocative drama dissecting the cultural identities of a pair of Indigenous youth.
The event took a fresh approach to embracing the diversity in storytelling that makes Edmonton’s theatre scene so unique, and Edmonton theatregoers to see Short & Suite Collective reprise this theatre event in 2022 with a new lineup of local talents.
The Grindstone Comedy Theatre & Bistro
10019 81 Ave