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originally published November 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament citing it was no longer functional, forcing Canadians to polls for the third general election in 4 years. That frustrated a large segment of an unfortunately already apathetic tax-paying population. The picture only seemed to get worse for voters as stock markets crumbled and Harper’s Conservatives government took a machete to arts funding. Bad enough Bill C-10 was a censorship wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing. All this served up inspiration for writer Edward Riche who seemed to be right on the arts community’s pulse when he wrote To Be Loved which debuted from October 10 – 12th at the Rabbittown Theatre just days before the election.

The 40 minute presentation was preceded by a video presentation called F*** The Arts, featuring a series of recognizable artists of every discipline satirically encouraging the funding slashes. The 3 short films were made by Brad Hodder, Neil Butler and Phil Churchil and edited into a more consistent piece for the prelude but are available to watch individually on the FTA group page on Facebook.

Hodder and Butler both starred in To Be Loved as well playing Harper and Stockwell Day respectively. The piece was set in 2040 and opened with Harper in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive with Day dropping by. The set was cluttered and easily recognizable as a home basement but also exaggeratedly peppered with Tim Horton’s paraphernalia. Day referenced the sweater vest Harper had on and they revisited how it was such a good strategy in 2008 joking the two should ‘go in costume’ for appearances, referencing Day in a wetsuit after winning his short-lived leadership. Day suffered more darts with Harper suggesting he was hard to keep on message and that if it was on cards it might have helped him.

Butler portrayed Day in an exuberant light that made him often appear innocently anxious which brought life to the lines that were just blurted out, seemingly without any prior thought. He exclaimed, “I never graduated. What a great country!” going on about his eventual position as Minister of Public Safety while digging through storage boxes for a “hat or sash” and ultimately snapping up with a helmet. He continued that “maybe pre-emotive incarceration” might help fix up the justice system and Harper eventually couldn’t help correcting him after saying “counter thunk” instead of counter intuitive.

The conversation shared by Hodder and Butler was trying to get at what might have triggered the motivation for cutting arts funding. When Day discovered Harper in the basement he was pounding away on a cardboard set of piano keys. Harper explained his teen asthma had precluded him from getting athletic so he opted for piano but the cardboard variety was all he’d got. Day quipped they should “offer a tax credit on cardboard piano’s, for everyone!” A joke referenced again when Harper shared his wife was also leaving him for a jazz musician, from Newfoundland, to which Day inquired “real or cardboard? He wasn’t ABC was he?”

There were other comedic references to the current political climate surrounding a government which will now be in power for at least another few years. The two joked about who had the best hair in cabinet (that went to Maxime Bernier) which led into a cardboard rendition of Canadian rocker Alanis Morrissette’s ballad Ironic. Harper also shared strategy with Day, letting him know that he’d shown Tom Flanagan the whole entire plan on the back on an envelope once.

To Be Loved is smartly written and created around a minimalist set that can be easily created with clutter. Featuring a small cast of two with only a few light changes, it was a great show that was easy to fully take in and appreciate, especially given the timely relevancy. The humour, although somewhat dark at points, didn’t presume a deep familiarity with politics either, instead lampooning campaign issues that were front and centre for the 2008 election but also some fundamental to Conservative Alliance policies. The reminiscing nature of the conversation between the two was somewhat laissez-faire, juxtaposing the opening video, but both unapologetically brought out their message that it is important to be loved and the arts are fundamentally important.

originally published May 2008

With more then a dozen of the arts scene’s finest fused together, hailing from a variety of disciplines, newfoundlandartistx (N.A.X.) created one of the most entertaining nights of original theatre to be experienced in St. John’s in a while. Part way through the show the realization came that it was already one of those memorable shows you feel you can relive in your head whenever you’d like. 5 Very Short New Plays in a Tub lived up to its name, both literal and critical. Lois Brown is the Artistic Director of N.A.X. and also one of the four writers that came together to make the production come to life.

Brown was joined by all-stars Robert Chafe, Mary Walsh, and Lynn Panting to ink the words for Sue Kent, Philip Winters, Dave Sullivan, Ruth Lawrence, Kira Sheppard, and Aiden Flynn (in order of appearance). As the name of the series suggests, every one of the five shorts took place in the bathroom, either immediately or eventually incorporating the luxurious spa tub full of water into the scene.

Gloria written by Chafe and directed by Brown featured a stunning performance by Kent who started the scene “a little over dressed for the tub” in an ardent red dress. Opposite her was Winters who shared a rather implied in-depth conversation to ensure Gloria was “ok,” leaving a guessing audience to try and sleuth out the situation. All the while, Winters’ character was left struggling with trying to deflect and lighten her mood with short comedic quips.

Because they couldn’t have bubbles in the tub for the opening number, the first of four somewhat lengthily scene changes started. Although the first was the longest, the crew executed a stellar distraction and got some willing audience members out of their seats and up to their elbows to shake up the suds.

5 Plays in a Tub

5 Plays in a Tub

Up next was Walsh’s contribution as directed by Amy House called Introducing Romanticism, which abrasively shattered the more somber tone of the prior scene. It featured a ‘present’ and ‘past’ setup with Lawrence in the tub recounting a confrontation. She had signature Walsh sarcasm in her lines which offered relief from the loud and drunken memory being played out behind her. Impressive was that with little eye contact Lawrence delivered lines in sync with her character’s younger-self portrayed by Sheppard.

The ‘very short’ short that probably had the most meat on its bones was Leona and Ruth written by Brown, directed by Roger Maunder. It told a story that left an audience wanting more. More back story and a deeper background of how Leona had come to share this conversation over, her caregiver, Ruth’s bath. It recalled childhood memories with Leona now telling stories to Ruth while parting the bubbles and dropping a homemade and quite symbolic raft made of popsicle sticks into the tub.

Both of the last two shorts could have served as the final piece in the line up. Whichever one was chosen, however, would drastically effect the audience’s final impressions. Two Witnesses which was written by Panting and directed by Nicole Rousseau featured a take on the apocalypse and opposing emotional approaches. Sullivan’s skittish character appeared with Lawrence’s more accepting and go-with-the-flow nature. She was prepared and ready for the end, in the tub (conceivably to stay warmer) with a party dress on and offered Sullivan his top hat with invitation to join her.

Death Would Be a Relief completed the evening and featured Flynn’s only appearance with Kent’s fourth for the night and Sullivan for his third. This, serving as the final piece, allowed the audience to leave with an amusing and charming scene that eventually went over the top. It worked though once the satiric observational comedy had enough time to compound upon itself.

It was an incredibly satisfying way to spend an evening with bite-sized pieces that were easy to digest and didn’t convolute themselves. It was easy to leave not only with a new play to revisit in my imagination but also plenty of great personal bath time memories revisited. The show made me realize how pensive and memorable that place can be. In fact I’d always said it was where I went to clear my head but perhaps all this time I’ve just been organizing it better and filling it up with more thoughts.

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February 2020
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