In what is becoming an annual event, the new year kicks off with an evening of mini-plays at the Jericho Arts Centre featuring all women all the time. The nine 10-15 minute pieces, written and directed by women, provide a showcase for 26 actresses and some delicious comic writing.
The short form definitely lends itself better to sketch comedy than to in-depth dramatic exploration. One of the smartest and funniest pieces, Kate Lynch’s “The Newcomer,” explains why the evening’s openers—stories of a young woman battling breast cancer and an old woman deciding whether to go into a home or choose eccentric independence—feel awkwardly earnest.
In “The Newcomer” a young actress (Lesli Brownlee) is supposed to play a fearful, oppressed Muslim refugee in a short dramatic sketch but instead makes her character comical, sexy and Irish, arguing with the playwright (Marianne Sawchuk) that she can’t do justice to issues like war and patriarchy in ten minutes. Lynch manages to make a serious point about theatre while skewering the pretensions of writers and actors. SG Lee’s direction and the performances are delightful.
Strong acting abounds in the comic work. Leslie Hopps is hilarious as a Noo Yawkese tough broad in Edna Pelonero’s “Family Names,” deftly directed by Sarah Jane Redmond, in which the confession of an adulteress (Andrea Lai) gets mixed up in an absurd proliferation of similarly named family members.
Director Dani Bryant choreographs the evening’s one great moment of physical comedy in Kate Hofflower’s “The Office,” when three desk-jockeys (Tosha Doiron, Kristina Murphy, Christina Sicoli) whip their bras off from under their tops, just to break up the boredom.
By contrast the action in Dolores Whiskeyman’s “So Tell Me about This Guy” is all cleverly semi-verbal. Two young women (Tanya Champoux, Jade Shaw) discuss a guy and possible sex and other complications without ever completing a sentence. It’s all so… and you know… and like… Director Laurann Brown and the actors make that secret code that teenage girls have mastered absolutely clear—to each other, anyway, if not to us non-teens.
In the end, though, not all is fun and games. Angela Moore’s monologue as a battered wife in the otherwise mostly forgettable “Fugue for Female Voices” is riveting. And the evening’s final piece, the anonymously written “Two Women,” provides the superb exception that proves the rule. Sally Stubbs directs Carmen Aguirre and Cherise Clarke as a rich and poor woman amid the Chilean civil war in 1973, each one’s life the other’s negative image. The same events that cause one to celebrate prove tragic to the other.
This is simple, powerful, high-stakes political theatre distilled to its essence. These women play for keeps.