From Feb. 11 to Feb. 13, The Theatre on King was home to two short plays directed by Simon Turner-Semchuk: When I Sorrow Most was written by Turner-Semchuk, and Quinn McGlade-Ferentzy penned Sinking’s Better Than Standing Still.
When I Sorrow Most begins with James (Dan Smith) and Alice (Hillary Wear) arguing about their jailed son, Jim (Jeff Curtis). As one might expect, the father disowns his offspring and the mother reiterates her ownership of the child regardless of his murderous deeds.
Jim, a young adult, had taken to killing his lovers. Acts two, four and six are flashbacks of one murder scene set entirely in the dark (except for front-of-house lights).
Setting the act in the dark was a bold move; the actors must convey their emotions without an appeal to body language or facial affects. Everything rests on the voice and I think both Curtis and Kelsey Gordon Powell managed to do the scenes justice.
In the first and second flashbacks, Jim has taken a nameless man (Powell) to his house or apartment. The two flirt and engage in conversation about their sexuality and their parents.
The darkness pays off here. While the flashback acts all occur in a fixed time and space with this one particular man, without seeing this individual the seduction (and eventual murder) may very well be any of the other victims.
In act three the mother visits Jim in jail for a heated debate about why he committed murder. Curtis’s delivered response, “Because I liked it,” aptly captured the character’s disturbed state of mind.
The fifth act has the father finally visit Jim in prison. While long overdue, the main reason for his visit was to inform the son that his mother had a stroke and survived.
There is a fatherly apology and the act ends on a high note with a father-son reconciliation possibly in the works.
The final act has Jim’s lover-turned-victim scrambling in the dark in an effort to hide from the crazed Jim. The man, already wounded, dies in the midst of an attempt to call his mother. The production ends with Jim dragging the corpse away.
Smith played the loud and hostile father well, and Wear played the compassionate mother figure competently. Curtis’ performance was exceptional as well.
I’ll surely feel a pang of fear whenever Jeff brandishes cooking knives at our mutual place of work (Jokes! You were great Jeff!). When I Sorrow Most is also rich with meaning and I assume Turner-Semchuk wanted us to appreciate the work literally as well as allegorically.
Both plays were staged in the round, something few venues are able to accommodate. While Turner-Semchuk’s play had his actors disengage from the audience, McGlade-Ferentzy’s humorous Porter character, played outstandingly by Wyatt Lamoureux, occasionally engaged the audience with eye contact and even a touch here and there.
The gender-bending Porter, employee, and perhaps proprietor, of the railway line Trans Rail Rail Trans, a line running from Eastern Canada to the West, was outstanding. Porter’s tasks were to converse with the three characters aboard the train as well as maintain the momentum of the story.
Three women, identified as Youngest (Skylar Ough), Middle (Lyne Dwyer), and Oldest (Shannon LeBlanc), meet in the train compartment and each relates their tale of recent hardship. Youngest is dumped mid-journey by the girlfriend she is en route to visit, Middle has just emerged from an abusive relationship and Oldest’s father has just died.
Each act has its own respective monologue from one of the lead characters. Ough, Dwyer, and LeBlanc each seemed to capture the essence of their characters and were able to deliver their monologues as if they were theatre veterans.
The exchanges and light verbal abuses amongst the characters were increasingly amusing, and the conclusion to the play – the train had gone absolutely nowhere geographically but the characters have perhaps taken an inner journey (or not) – situates it within a tradition of absurdist theatre. Both plays had a mix of practiced and non-professional actors.
The success of these plays surely rests on the shoulders of Turner-Semchuk’s directing of this troupe – in his written play, he was able to get emotionally rich performances and with McGlade-Ferentzy’s play he found ways to keep the characters moving whilst remaining in a stationary location. They were both always exciting, and either disturbing or hilarious, respectively.
I hope the Peterborough theatre scene sees more of this band of writers and actors.