Brain Food is the Red Sandcastle Theatre’s fifth production this year. The quaint theatre opened their doors on March 4, to showcase two 40-minute plays with an intermission in between.
Fail Safe is the first performance, a charming sci-fi play written and directed by Michael Stittle.
As the house lights dim, an overhead projector shows two silhouettes slowly dancing. Melodic beats sound as Elizabeth Bensen, played by Jorie Morrow, nostalgically speaks of regret, loss of love and apocalyptic fear.
Abruptly, NASA scientist Smith (played by Phil Hahn) questions why Mr. Falmer, who has been reduced to a shiny pink brain encased in a glass jar, is awake.
Right away the audience is filled with questions regarding Falmer and Bensen’s intentions. The play begs timely and ethical questions of space travel, innovation and creation.
We are part of the presentation. We are audience members overseeing the quiet destruction of North America which has been hit with irreversible viruses.
There are a few times where actors fumble over words but each actor maintains their volume and is fully aware and comfortable with the beeps used to emulate Falmer’s voice.
Stittle makes productive use of graphics presented on the overhead. The phrase “Time heals all wounds” is shown several times as secrets are exposed.
Ex-scientist Tate, played by Jason Thompson, is a walking example of these secrets. Most of the warmth here comes from Tate as he commands the audience to follow his zany thought process, which is exhausting in a good way.
The play can be a little confusing when Tate is transported into a dream-like state where he communicates with his deceased wife Marissa (played by Suzanne Miller).
The lighting makes up for the lack of aesthetic detail in the set with excellent use of red state of emergency flickering lights as Falmer crashes.
Fail Safe ends rather abruptly and I found myself wanting more than just brief moments of Bensen reflecting. I would have liked to see more of the other actors’ thoughts and reactions heading out to the pods to save themselves.
With We Say Such Terrible Things, director Bil Antoniou pushes the envelope with a shockingly funny critique on the gay dating world.
What makes the performance such a splendid surprise is the specific Toronto references wrapped up in the intergenerational discussions of popular culture.
The entire play takes places in the living space of Adam, played by Cory Bertrand. Antoniou uses the decline of the formal dinner party as a metaphor for a way of life that was once highly proper and significant and has now changed to a taxingly time-consuming and outdated ritual that is likely to cause stress to any host.
Four dinner guests gather around a circular wooden table. There is a Van Gogh "Starry Night" print on the wall, a coat rack, two extra chairs and a side table functioning as a mini bar.
The audience is invited into the living room through the delicious smell the finger foods and desserts prepared by Nicole Anast.
For the most part, the unexpected elements of We Say Such Terrible Things public are how tethered it remains to its shocking roots while still sending the audience into a fit of laughter.
Antoniou performs in his own piece, immersing himself into the character of Chris, a booze-fueled Bridget Jones inspired “middle aged spread that still likes to dance.” Right away the audience is bombarded with comical dancing, fowl language and crude jokes regarding Sarah Palin's genitalia – compliments of Chris’ dramatic nature.
Antoniou skillfully executes the role of a selfish 30-something, pouting because his long-term boyfriend, Adam, does not want to live with him.
Routinely, Chris sides with his life-long friend Ben, even when Ben nearly ruins the evening for Adam.
Bertrand plays a convincing anxious debonair who is stressed over the possibility of losing his job for teaching students about risqué LGBT representation in art.
At times, We Say Such Terrible Things threatens to teeter over in favour of shock value. If Chris’ antics are offensive than Ben’s jokes are outrageously insolent.
Benjamin, played by Daniel Krolik, is the other standout in this fine cast. Ben is an abrasive and sour bachelor known for making cutthroat comments and giving bitchy side-eye.
Throughout the play Ben also mocks and discredits the relationship between Donald played by Jason Thompson and Elliot played by Jack Everett.
Donald appears to be twice Elliot’s senior. Elliot’s first appearance on stage illustrates the age gap as he explains to Chris that he brought cupcakes because “muffins are for breakfast.”
The relationship seems to critique the discrepancies between the way society unfairly justifies heterosexual teacher-student relations but scandalizes gay teacher-student relations.
Thompson connects with the audience through his light performance. Elliot is an optimist who is not necessarily naive but he is not yet bitter.
Elliot continuously bobs his head or flirts as he cuts the cake sets him apart from any other character. Later he lives up to this playful personality, allowing Chris to smear a cupcake all over his face and then roll on the floor.
Donald is the parent in the relationship and differs considerably from Elliot. The audience cannot help but to admire his ability to ability to remain civil as Ben nitpicks at Donald and Elliot’s relationship.
That patience does not last too long however, as Donald levels with Ben once and for all in one of the longest and most telling scenes. This fiery monologue is beautifully scripted yet the voice was not as convincing. The growly voice used throughout the argument did not waver as Donald turned over a chair.
The play is nicely packaged for a short-but-sweet finish. Ben and Chris sit in sheer drunkenness and the music fades and then sharply crescendos as the house goes to black.
Brain Food is playing at the Red Sandcastle Theatre until March 14.