Theatre (Vancouver Fringe) review: First Day Back never takes sides

Rob Salerno explores bullying in the wake of a teen suicide in his one-man monologue First Day Back, attempting a balance between victim and perpetrators.

In its 60 minutes, Salerno breaks his piece into three distinct voices: a gathering of students who come to see how they can make things better after the suicide, a football jock that may have been the final catalyst for the suicide and finally Ollie, the young man who killed himself.

Salerno is most successful in the first 20 minutes of the piece as he takes on the personas of the students coming to terms with Ollie’s death and who find some connection to his life either literally or through their own experience.  There is a natural cadence to Salerno’s delivery that connects us with each of these characters but it is in his Layla, the one with the closest connection to Ollie who is the most powerful with a combination of guilt, defiance and resignation.

Rob Salerno stars in his one-man monlogue First Day Back at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. Photo by Andrew Phoenix.
Rob Salerno stars in First Day Back at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. Photo by Andrew Phoenix.

In the second third, Salerno pushes focus on the football player Jessie who recounts the incident that may have fuelled Ollie’s breaking point.  While at times whiny, Salerno attempts to provide a perspective from the other side, from the bully himself.

In the final third, we meet Ollie. Salerno portrays him as a flamboyant young man as he records “Super Ollie’s Awesome Youtube Video”, providing only the smallest of hints to the darker side that will eventually lead to his suicide.  Salerno is fearless here, willing to give himself over to this young man’s love for pink feather boas and Lady Gaga music.

What sets First Day Back apart from other anti-bullying messages is Salerno’s decision not to take sides, forcing his audience to come to their own conclusion.

4 Out of 5 StarsFirst Day Back
Part of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival
8 – 16 September 2012
Studio 1398, 1398 Cartwright Street, Granville Island

Visit http://www.vancouverfringe.com for exact showtimes and tickets.

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