Rowing, written and directed by Aaron Jan, brings the house down in the Hammer with its local and youthful theatre experience.
The play’s progression very much parallels that of a rower’s stroke. The play opens up with the characters figuratively “on their knees,” reaching forward, trying to unlock the secrets of “growing up.” As the play drives on, so does the intensity. Characters reveal their motivations and challenge their fears. The play’s “finish” and “feather,” brings refuge to the crew as they redirect their motivations and goals.
For some, growing up can be as simple as moving away to college and starting a career. For others, growing up can mean memorizing the Heart and Stroke website information and setting the boathouse of an enemy ablaze. Audiences can expect a unique 70-minute coming of age story, filled with party games, a kidnapping and emerging psychopaths skillfully performed by home-grown talent.
The play opens with a young couple Rick, played by Andrew Markowiak, and Claire, played by Courtney Keir, who have decided to part ways. During the beginning of the play, Rick, an archetypal man-child, is still devastated after a split from his girlfriend months before. Rick turns to Westdale’s community rowing team to cope and prove to Claire that he is a grown man, who is mature and responsible. Markowiak plays a very believable, puffy-eyed, down-on-his-luck unmotivated slacker. His monologues poignantly beg for acceptance and adult stability.
Rick is joined by three other misfits, who similarly use rowing to help them navigate through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. The team consists of other “not-so-cool” college kids like team captain Mark, played by Zach Parkhurst. Hoping to jog the memory of his ailing grandfather, Mark assembles the team as a reflection of an old photograph taken with his grandfather’s rowers. Mark’s true motivations are not revealed until later on in the play. Until then, Parkhurst does a superb job at playing a competitive stuff-shirt with his backhanded compliments and sardonic comments. This side of Mark juxtaposed with scenes of Mark showcasing his true intentions easily positions Parkhurst as one of the strongest actors in the play.
Mark recruits seasoned rower Howie, played by Jordan Laffrenier. Laffrenier brings the adrenalin to the performance with his highly intensive verbal onslaught and violent disposition. The dexterity of Laffrenier’s stage movement is unparalleled. Howie’s only concern is to get lucky and luckily for Howie’s concerned teammates, the only action Howie receives is a blow to the head after his unwelcomed advances.
Jake, played by Madeleine Brown, is the only character in the play with somewhat wholesome motivations for rowing. In an attempt to fortify his Dad’s position with the Heart and Stroke foundation, Jake entertains the idea of hosting a live-streamed party to raise funds. Madeleine deserves praise for her ability to capture the droopy-eyed, home-schooled outcast. Watching Madeleine is like watching an awkward first-time camp counsellor explain a circle game to unwilling participants. Brown fumbles around with the computer with subdued geekiness. From her slouched shoulders to her overemphasizes jokes, Brown does an amazing job at balancing out the highly emotional characters.
An honourable mention goes to Rachel Estok who is a natural as she drags an unconscious Howie offstage after subduing him with a laptop. Ben Siapas also deserves recognition for his highly polished performance during the stage fight and badass wink to the audience. In all, the actors seemed very well suited for their roles.
Each character adrift at the beginning of the play, hones in on their failings and comes through the experience stronger, tying up all loose ends for a subtle ending. With only a few minor bumps in light and audio queues, the performance is a must-see.
Presented by the Chrysalis Workshop, Rowing plays at the Staircase Café Theatre as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival until July 26. For more information visit www.hamiltonfringe.ca.