Review: STEW Program B – still needs time in the oven

Much like Thursday night, the two plays in Program B of Studio 58’s STEW: 4 Delicious Recipes For New Theatre, currently on stage through February 7th, need a little more time for their full flavours to come out.

First up, on this second night of student one-act plays, is Katherine Swinwood’s Three Seats in a Row.  Love, lust and infidelity are explored here with what could be a Lolita-esque undercurrent although to be honest it was difficult to determine ages of some of these characters;  I was not just a little surprised when we find out that Carolyn (Tamera Lay) is actually Alex’s (Caitlin McCarthy) mother.

Much of the action here takes place in Carolyn’s mother’s bedroom, played wonderfully by Melanie Desbiens, who has not left her bed since the death of her father.  But like a number of other back stories here, we never do get a clear understanding of why she took to her bed.  And why does the mother obviously not like Matt?  Does she somehow sense he lusts after Alex?  And just what, exactly, does Carolyn’s husband Peter (Sean Hewlett) do all day in the furnace room?

In her programme notes, playwright Swinwood talks about the genesis of the play (something about circles and arrows) and admits that she still doesn’t quite understand what it all means.  Perhaps that is the point?  Families and their secrets can be powerful things.  I just wish sometimes we were in the know.  And while we are never allowed a full understanding of the family dynamics, one thing is for certain: one should never eat in the same bed where you get your toenails clipped.

Matthew MacDonald-Bain as John and Lisa Goebel as Geena in The Park, A Musical.The second piece in Program B is an original musical called The Park (actually the full title is The Park, a musical but that seems a bit redundant for my purposes).  And while I joke, it is actually with the same tongue-permanently-planted-in-cheek irreverence that the three playwrights (Benjamin Elliott, Hannah Johnson and Anton Lipovetsky) have given us here.

Gabe (Dustin Freeland), a greedy developer, is out to make Stanley Park a parking lot.  On the opposite side of the issue is “crunchy granola tree hugger” Geena (Lisa Goebel).  Caught in the middle is the recently laid off Park’s Board worker John (Matthew MacDonald-Bain).  Geena and Gabe battle it out by seeing who can collect the most names on their petitions, to either save or pave.  The prize?  Why, Stanley Park, of course!

While one cannot but help admire this young trio of writers in taking on the task of a musical, it, like the rest of these one-acts, is simply not quite ready to be served up to its audience.  From the grating stereotype of Patricia (Joy Castro) to the chicken numbers (yes, there is more than one) to the ending that is telegraphed as soon as Geena and John first meet, we are once again given a half-cooked play that, although will undoubtedly win over audiences because of its local content, still needs that extra little kick like what a really good spice mix can bring.

There is no denying the talent from these young playwrights over the course of these two evenings but rather than a perfect STEW that has had time to absorb all of its flavours, these may be better served tomorrow.

3 out of 5 StarsSTEW – 4 Delicious Recipes for New Theatre
Studio 58, 100 W. 49th Avenue Vancouver
27 January – 7 February 2010

The professional theatre training program at Langara College, presents STEW, 4 new recipes for delicious theatre (previously known as FourPlay). This popular festival of one-act plays features original work by Studio 58 students and for the first time the line-up includes an original musical! All tickets only $11 available online at Tickets Tonight. Visit http://www.langara.bc.ca/studio58 for more information.

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