Two Polar Opposite Shows, One Night at the Fringe

Nicole D’Amato

Staff Writer

My double-header night at the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival exposed me to two very different, but nonetheless intriguing shows.

My first stop was at the newly renovated Mills Hardware (95 King Street East), to witness the comedy cabaret, XOXO: The Relationship Show. Based on the 2013 mini-series hit, XOXO, and winner of the People’s Choice Award at SpringWorks Festival 2014 (Stratford, Ontario), this hour-long piece is written, directed, and performed by Meghan Chalmers and Franny McCabe-Bennett, better known as the Two Juliets. The space was intimate, with a raised stage, blank set, and, of course, Beyoncé playing in the background.

XOXO: The Relationship Show explores the complicated and sometimes baffling politics of dating and relationships in the twenty-first century from a young female point of view. Beginning with an homage to ‘Spin the Bottle’ and the teenage game ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’, the audience is given a glimpse into the psyche of young women who face these seemingly trivial, yet pressing incidents in their everyday lives. The perpetually asked (yelled) club question “IS HE CUTE?”, the struggles of the accidental Tinder left swipe, or the ‘Like’ of the ex-boyfriend’s current girlfriend’s Insta Collage are all incredibly relatable and had me in stitches in the front row –laughing not only at the content, but also at myself for having been in those same silly situations.

I was most impressed with the Two Juliets’ willingness to play. The piece was never shy of high-energy honesty, and my favourite of their sketch-comedy bits had to be the Macbeth witches throwback, discussing the curse and impact of the attention-grabbing new display picture.

I would say that this piece, instead of truly having something for everyone, speaks to a very specific audience of young females. I would love to see the show workshopped and improved once again, with the outcome of a more polished and tight performance. Nonetheless, XOXO: The Relationship Show is an entertaining and fun piece, which challenges modern day relationship and gender norms.

My second stop was Hamilton Theatre INC (140 Macnab Street North), to see Opie Come Home, an Absurdist piece from young playwright, Ian O’Brien and Amethyst Rex Productions. From the moment I stepped into the theatre, I was transported into an eerie apocalyptic world of grey and black, with only a few hints of the colour red visible.

A few cold lights lit the stage while strange tunes played in the background. A window with the curtains drawn, a table with gas masks hanging off it, a door, an old red phone, and a clock with no hour or minute hands (my personal favourite touch) made up the set and prop pieces.

This piece illustrates a family, comprised of mother, Kitty (Rachel Faber), son, Terra Firma (Rebecca Reid), and daughter, Pandora (Sam Burwell), as they continue to wait endlessly for the arrival of husband and father, Robert, or Opie (Dave Krock).

The language employed by the characters is fragmented, short, and at times illogical, true to Absurdist form. All communication is broken down and the audience is left with the thought that the lives of these characters are transient and meaningless. In Beckett and Sartre style, I was entranced with the idea that these characters have been waiting forever, though time would not be a dimension in this prison that the characters are trapped in.

I was most impressed with the sound design and costume design, though I am not sure who was responsible, as programmes were not given out. Regardless, the production elements were crucial and an incredibly powerful tool in creating the atmosphere. I was also intrigued with the performance of Kitty, by Rachel Faber. She displayed hopelessness within her portrayal of the text, which affected me, leaving me almost scared, sitting alone, front-row center.

The final image of the father’s arrival with the paper mache headpiece will forever be ingrained in my mind. This show was definitely a piece open for audience interpretation; the plot was never clear-cut and left room for endless questions and possibilities. In true Absurdist fashion, Opie Come Home generated confusion and fear; it had me leaving the theatre thinking about the piece for hours.

For more information about XOXO: The Relationship Show and Opie Come Home, visit www.hamiltonfringe.com.