Have you ever thought up a brilliant concept that translated seamlessly to paper, but was perhaps a little too ambitious when you tried to actually execute it? That’s what Outrun the Mill’s Paperweight feels like, although this isn’t to say that the production as a whole doesn’t work. It definitely has attributes that render it both noteworthy and impactful.
For starters, the plot is certainly not paper-thin. Inspired by Bessie Cheng’s personal accounts and Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, Cheng and Chelsea Haraburda submerge us into the lives of two roommates in university, who find themselves at crossroads upon receiving envelopes that contain two very different pieces of information. An acceptance letter to McMaster’s School of Graduate Studies warmly greets Haraburda, while Cheng learns that her father, who lives in China, has a son she never knew about and is getting remarried. Cheng implores Haraburda to attend his wedding with her; however, Haraburda is faced with a dilemma of her own: to adhere to her family’s wishes and enroll in grad school, or to take time off and unearth her true desires.
What I really appreciated about the writing is its sincerity. This is a story conceived straight from the heart. Stories that integrate family dynamics with friendships are particularly moving, and this one is no exception, because it is an accurate representation of who youth are most likely to go to when they experience familial issues – their closest companions. I especially liked how the girls didn’t treat their conflicts as puerile during the play; in a society where students are dismissed as first world complainers, they took themselves seriously and spoke volumes about the types of legitimate struggles young people deal with everyday. One line that really got to me was when Haraburda stated that her family doesn’t see her as a strong individual – it just goes to show that no matter how fortunate one seems, everyone experiences situations in life that can tear them apart.
That being said, though their performances were emotionally driven, I still wasn’t entirely convinced of their amity. They conveyed heavy sentiments such as concern, stress and frustration, but their vocals were slightly underwhelming in comparison. They also spent the majority of the show far apart from one another, whereas I would’ve wanted to see more intimacy between them. A prime example I found touching was when Haraburda hugged Cheng’s back after Cheng woke up violently from a nightmare. More moments like this would’ve sealed the deal for an already passionate performance.
The spirit of Paperweight emerged from its innovative visual presentation, compliments of designers Hayley Pace and Ryan Percival. The piece is an amalgam of physical storytelling, naturalistic performance and beautifully handcrafted paper stencils on a projection screen. These theatrical elements vividly depicted the feelings of fear and isolation the girls would encounter in their dreams behind the screen.
These brief segments were the highlight of the show, portraying the clashing emotions that are often difficult to describe in words. However, it was clear that the spoken dialogue was competing with these sections, and this is where the performance was affected. Had there been more emphasis placed on the visuals, the piece could’ve potentially been more powerful.
When it’s all said and done, I was invested in the extraordinary premise, and would love nothing more than for it to be taken to the next level. With a bit more polish and focus, this work of art is the budding of something truly remarkable.
Paperweight is playing at the Art Forms Youth Art Studio, located at 126 James Street North, until July 26 as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Tickets are $10 ($5 Fringe Backer Buttons are required for entry as well) and can be purchased at the studio or at: http://www.hamiltonfringe.ca/tickets.