Walking into the theater at UNB’s Memorial Hall, you are hit with the sound of Vietnam-era protest rock and roll. I expected to see college students in hippie garb painting protest signs, but instead we look into two empty prison cells.
Caged, the first of the one-act plays performed as part of the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, is a workshopped story of two military deserters written by Alex Donovan and directed by Jake Martin.
Frank and Rebecca are two unlikely individuals detained at the Canada-US border. Frank (Scott Harris), is an old man who was in the military during the Vietnam War. He deserted and was never caught, until he tried to re-enter the United States to visit his injured son. Rebecca (Stephanie Doucette) is a young Marine sergeant and mother who deserted both her job and her child.
The beginning feels slightly forced—the idea of a man being imprisoned for deserting a war that ended roughly forty years ago, and being guarded by two order-following moronic hyena officers (Barry McCluskey and Paula Tozer) seems a little far-fetched.
However, as Frank and Rebecca’s relationship deepens, and their stories and their struggles to reconcile duty with family needs and wants shine through, there is a profound sense of the importance of balancing family and duty, and how difficult it can be to see that from a veteran’s perspective.
Harris’s portrayal of Frank comes off with great vocal expression and a quiet but deep emotion. There is realness in Frank’s internal conflict over what he did that steeped his character and the tone of the play with what it means to regret, and what that experience can do to a person.
Doucette, as the chatty but secretly vulnerable Rebecca, complements Frank’s sadness well; there is a duality born between the two as they discover they feel the same things but show them differently.
When it comes to feeling the same but showing it differently, Wasters, the second play of the Acting Out series, really hits home.
Written by Jake Martin and directed by Alex Donovan, Wasters is the story of two survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Sid and Cam are two friends stranded on an apartment rooftop after a devastating flood wipes out their entire city (country? world?). It’s a terrifyingly plausible end-of-the-world scenario, when you hear so often in the news scientists warning about the impending doom that climate change may cause in the future.
Wasters essentially asks the question “what would you do?” in a survival situation. Cam, played by Dillon Matchett, copes with his situation the way I think most of us would—he keeps himself busy, sets goals, needs, and tasks to accomplish. Sid, played by Esther Soucoup, acts more rationally, but the practical stoicism seems to be a front for hopelessness and despair. Sid’s rationale: if there is nothing that needs to be done, why bother doing anything?
The set appears like any apartment rooftop … if two environmental disaster refugees were camping on it—tin can lights strung across the top, a tarp tent and a shed that leads to the underlying flooded apartment building.
As time slowly passes without any way to differentiate the days, Sid and Cam slowly unravel, and their different coping mechanisms cause them to turn against each other. Cam’s longing for some hope to cling to painfully conflicts with Sid’s determination to not give a shit about what happens.
Wasters has some really heart wrenching moments. While watching, I was rooting for the stubbornly optimistic Cam just as much as I wanted for the pessimistic Sid to find some sort of hope.
Perhaps it was the plausibility of the scenario, or the realness of the characters, but watching Wasters hits home the message of what it is like to be human. When all civilization is wiped away, what is it that defines us as a species? The drive for work and purpose, so apparent in Cam, rings true for me at least, but there will always be a part of us that is the voice of Sid, making us question, “What is the point?” Wasters’ answer to that question may be that as humans we need to hope, even when all seems hopeless.
NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival premiered Alex Donovan’s Caged and Jake Martin’s Wasters at UNB’s Memorial Hall July 28-30, 2016.