Review by: Brian Morton
DISCLAIMER: I directed playwright Robert Savoie’s first stage play ESCAPE at the 2011 Hamilton Fringe. Also one actor involved is a friend.
This original Hamilton script is about five friends who hang out in Gore Park on the benches right by the fountain at King and James. It is not a typical stage play in that it is docudrama – it is theatre written as non fiction – or as the play’s tag-line reads on the poster – fiction about real people.
There was a wonderfully cool metaphysical moment in the first performance which I attended on Friday night. In the second row of the capacity audience were the real people who inspired these on stage characters – they laughed, hooted, heckled and nodded on recognition of the onstage action.
Make no mistake, there is the core of an absolutely brilliant stage play here. The characters depicted are clever, funny and engaging. But there is virtually no onstage action – the characters chatter away about important stuff that happens almost entirely off stage.
The play begins with the death of a friend of the group Lewis, who while high on Crack has got paranoid and has fallen off the roof of the apartment building he lives in. They remember the guy and mourn his passing.
The characters also talk at length about an upcoming wedding between the only onstage woman Maggie (played by Shilo Nelson) and her boyfriend.
Ultimately we don’t get to see that wedding, as we never leave the park. What we do get instead is a great deal of philosophical discussion about the merits of not being single anymore. And so it goes. There is also a lot of hugging and some talk of God. Gord Nelson and Luis Arrajo provide much needed support to the main narrative.
Each scene is preceded by a linking monologue from our narrator the wheelchair restricted Josh (played with panache and commitment by Jonny Kerr). Much of what he has to say about having kids, the history of the Gore district and Hamilton’s unique definition of “riff raff” is pretty interesting, but the pattern of scene / monologue / scene gets repetitive quickly.
Director Patti Cannon has done a fine job directing giving this play power by imparting tangible production values, coaxing some very good performances out of a cast of relatively inexperienced actors and above all keeping the pace humming along quickly.
Our engaged couple to be never express any onstage affection; not even a kiss on the cheek or the holding of hands. They give off no “couple vibe”. And this is typical of what needs to be worked on with this show.
There is a great deal of talk about the cops hassling folks hanging out in the park – but no sign of an actor playing a police officer and thus creating the essential conflict that makes good drama. Anyone depicted onstage is a friend and fellow misfit.
The show opens with a cool acoustic rendition of Tom Petty’s classic 1980 song THE WAITING sung by local musician Johnny Kerr, and ends with Savoie’s poem recited by the entire cast about love and life.
One of the things the Fringe does very well is give local writers the opportunity to hone their craft by seeing it staged and getting reaction from an audience. On the night I saw it – the audience laughed and applauded enthusiastically. On that level the show is certainly a success.
As a collection of character sketches of real people – Savoie’s GORE MIS-FITS cannot be faulted. It is a sincere attempt to make art out of the everyday experiences of a real group of ordinary Hamiltonians. And so I hope audience take the chance to see a rather off beat take on the stuff in life that really matters – filtered through the eyes of a local playwright.