Nasty Shadow’s double-bill of House invites while Ohio Impromptu drags

2 12 2018

by Nate Telman

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Listener (Scott Shannon) knocks while Reader (Michael Holmes-Lauder), well, reads—a lot—in Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic Ohio Impromptu. Photo Credit: Michael Holmes-Lauder

Nasty Shadows Theatre Co. treats New Brunswick to a double feature of Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu and Daniel MacIvor’s House. An interesting combination of two starkly different plays.

House is a one man show that comes across more like a crazy stranger telling you their life story while you wait for the bus, in the best way. MacIvor has written an hour-long monologue, but Victor (Scott Shannon) instantly squashes any fear that you are in for a dull lecture with his captivating storytelling. With his enchanting performance, the fact that all the pieces of his tale are being performed by one actor makes it even more impressive. He snaps in and out of the characters of his life seamlessly, with all of them having unique qualities that he pinpoints and portrayed flawlessly.

Shannon brings an immense amount of physicality to his portrayal of Victor. He commits entirely, whether he is dancing in glee, reenacting a memory, or literally jumping from the stage into the audience. Breaking the fourth wall while continuing to display the brokenness of his mind, Victor prances in and out of his story to reassure us of his sanity.

The simple set, a foldable chair on a blank stage, puts the full story into the hands of the actor. Other than this, the environment is dictated by the lighting. Victor seems to be in control of the lights as they dance around the stage and on and off at the snap of his fingers. He literally takes lighting into his own hands at one point with a hand-held lamp.

The upbeat energy of Victor’s anger-filled rants is juxtaposed with the significantly less energized “reading” that is Ohio Impromptu. As two identical figures take their seats and one reads the last pages of a book, he is interrupted only by the knocking of the other. The reading is both dull and hard to follow for those of us used to modern English.

Having never seen a Beckett play performed I was excited to experience Ohio Impromptu. I was, however, surprised by how incapable I was at engaging with the piece that felt more like a reading from an academic textbook than something one would read for entertainment.

Its monotone ten-minute monologue is so excessively wordy that I am unable to retain any bit of dialogue or meaning from the performance. Such style, delivery, and writing results in a monumental shift of tone both in the show, which starts off with such vigour, but then drains me mentally. Its addition to the evening seems an odd choice and an unnecessary accompaniment to the engaging rollercoaster of a show that is House.

Nasty Shadow’s double-bill of Daniel MacIvor’s House and Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu—billed as “Ohio House,” ran at UNB’s Memorial Hall November 7-8, 2018 before touring to Saint John and Moncton.

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Scott Shannon captivates as Victor in Daniel MacIvor’s House. Photo Credit: Michael Holmes-Lauder.

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