Samplings from Superior Theatre Festival

By Michael Sobota

Superior Theatre Festival (STF) began to sprawl in this, its second summer, with more than a dozen different productions and concerts spread over four different venues. The three-day event had repeat performances of some of the productions. Here is a sampling of what I was able to take in.

Speechless  

This was a public reading of a new play by Cathi Grandfield. The script is still in development.  This reading, the first act of the play, was directed by Jeff Mackay and featured local actors Cornelius Beaver, Elliot Cromarty, Andrea Jacobsen, Justin Parcher and Sarah Walker. Grandfield’s script explores how we react to events with the information we have before we have all the information. It is a fictional work referencing real Thunder Bay events involving a brutal night-time bashing, initially thought to be gang related. The actors brought to life vivid characters, unveiling a tantalizing mystery. The playwright reveals important ideas through a script that skillfully incorporates them into believable characters and dialogue.

Maelstrom

This is a two person, fifteen-minute contact dance piece created and performed by Mikela Demers and William Hamilton. Wearing regular clothes and shoes, Demers and Hamilton gave us a full-throttle, physical performance exploring relationships, tenderness, fierceness, and play. They are superb athletic dancers, using facial expressions (doubt? curiosity? anger?) as well as the full range of vertical and horizontal contact dance. I had the great pleasure of seeing them perform Maelstrom three times. They were exhilarating to experience. A STF highlight for me.

Scratchings by Mothlight

Sean Jesseau created a spoken word, music piece accompanied by Mario Potestio on an electric bass guitar. In performance, Jesseau conjured up a 1970’s beat coffeehouse atmosphere, delivering text while using various percussion instruments that were spread around him on the stage. Unfortunately, inferior electronic amplification coupled with the overly loud bass made much of Jesseau’s words inaudible. He is a skilled performer and crafted an engaging half-hour work.

10×10 Playwrights Showcase

A series of seven short locally written plays originally seen in the annual 10×10 Playwrights Showcase made up two clusters of hour long performances. It was exciting to see local writers get to have their plays revived, some with new directors and almost all of them with at least one or more different actors in their casts. Full disclosure: I directed Cathi Grandfield’s Rain. There were several good performances within and insightful direction of these short plays. Nancy Freeborn, a street hot-dog vendor in another Grandfield play, One For Norma, was mesmerizing. She performed several monologues each one was a marvel of choices, nuance, and focus. Actors Justin Bresele and Sheena Larson charmingly brought to life Carole Sauve’s wickedly funny In Memory of Dane Gerrous.  Sauve’s play both celebrates and satirizes a nerd relationship, caught up in the layered depths of gaming.

Salt Water Moon

David French’s classic Canadian romance has had thousands of performances both here in Canada and internationally. Its structure is simple: A young man, Jacob Mercer, comes back home to a small Newfoundland town to regain a love (Mary Snow) he had abandoned. The play is a long night of wooing, under a starry sky with a full moon. Tia Lunn and Neil Paterson gave two of the finest performances I have seen in Thunder Bay in the past several years. Passionate and compassionate, tempered and in tempered, with nearly flawless Newfoundland accents, they were a joy to watch. The production was not without  flaws, however. Some of French’s text is didactic – the play takes place in the early 1920’s, in a very different moral time. Donna Marie Baratta’s direction too often favoured a static line, flattening the ebbs and flows of romantic love washing ashore into Mary Snow’s backyard. Performed in The Spirit Garden down at Marina Park, that backyard could have been a football field. And unfortunately, that impression was augmented by inferior technical sound amplification (miking) and lighting (at least for the night-time performance I saw). The mikes occasionally crackled and broke up, pulling us out of the story and left us watching actors struggling with poor technical support. Lighting on two short trees placed directly opposite each other, unfortunately cast shadows on the actors when they were in front of one another. Also there was no soft moonlight in the performance space. However, in the end, French’s great romantic story and the believable performances from Lunn and Patterson, rose above those faults to provide us with a rewarding experience.