Greg Everett – November 1st, 2018 – Open Space Theatre, Fredericton

Theatre is important, and important theatre is happening in Fredericton. This evening, a sold-out audience is given the chance to experience two radical works in progress from Solo Chicken Productions as part of the company’s two-year residency at TNB.

Fruit Machine 1
Promotional stills from Fruit Machine courtesy of Alex Rioux (@reduceriouxrecycle)

PIG is a collaboration between director Lisa Anne Ross and visual artist Danielle Hogan that draws inspiration from internet hate-speech, anti-feminist rhetoric, and the anthropomorphized gutter spawn of the two, Donald Trump. The result is a non-narrative series of vignettes performed by Mariana Amero, Kira Chisholm, Naomi McGowan, Sydney Hallet and Lisa Anne Ross, underpinned with music by Zak Rogers. At the center of the piece are powerful, gorgeous images of blood, flowing out from recordings of Trump’s comments regarding Megyn Kelly: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her…wherever.” The performers confront each other with red veils; they stomp menacingly across the stage with red fringes dangling between their legs; one carries a red parasol with a long train of red lace, draping it slowly out as a backdrop to the frantic, paranoid, militarized scuffling of the others. And there is a poignant arc that develops as the piece moves from Trump to archaic-but-in-actuality-all-too-contemporary ideas about femininity, hysteria, and the unsightliness of menstrual blood, then back to the finale: an inaugural speech by Hillary Clinton (Ross) that reminds audiences how long the road has been and questions how much progress we’ve really made.

Fruit Machine 2
Promotional stills from Fruit Machine courtesy of Alex Rioux (@reduceriouxrecycle)

Fruit Machine, by director Alex Rioux and co-creator Samuel Crowell, explores the gay military purge of the 1960s, wherein aberrant sexual behaviour was considered a weakness that could be exploited by hostile intelligence agencies and needed, therefore, to be expunged. Also vignette style, over a skeleton of character and narrative, it is performed by Samuel Crowell, Dustyn Forbes, Sydney Hallett, Miguel Roy and Esther Soucoup. The piece makes excellent use of repetition and layering by presenting the audience with a dense introduction that is parsed out and revisited throughout the rest of the play; clinical description, institutional condemnation, and overlapping dialog is unpacked into individual experiences that echo the play’s opening moments through to its end. Also of particular note is the use of light and movement to create interrogative spaces on stage, wherein the performers writhe while they struggle to articulate their lived experiences under the harsh light of institutional condemnation. One of the play’s most successful moments is a perfectly executed physical comedy routine between Crowell and Roy when, in the midst of a child-like recitation of praise for his big brother, Crowell is interrupted by an apple rolling onto stage, which he must then hide from Roy by passing it from hand to hand around his own body.

The juxtaposition of the two shows, one developed from the zeitgeist of contemporary right wing discourse and the other from the historical discrimination of public institutions, is perhaps most powerful through its suggestion of continuity; the world that gave rise to PIG is certainly one that could draw the events of Fruit Machine into the present. Where Fruit Machine amplifies elided voices of the past, PIG screams in the face of erasure that is a present reality. Together, Solo Chicken’s works in progress show strong potential for their continued development, and forecast great things to come during the company’s residency with TNB.

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