Review: Festival of Dionysus


Actors perform in the play Man vs. Pyjamas (Courtesy Julianna Notten)

Love turns sour between a star-crossed couple during a time of nationwide strife.

A man has a relentless battle between the couch and his pyjamas.

These are just some of the eclectic plays that were part of the Ryerson Community Theatre’s (RCT) opening night on March 28. The annual showcase featured six plays, performed during a two-hour show. The showcase, which is put on by students from different programs, ran for three consecutive nights.

This year’s show was one of the biggest put on by the club since he joined four years ago, says Sam Stringer, RCT co-president. He says he hopes that increased marketing through social media and word of mouth will allow the club to continue growing.

“My hope is that we can get RCT to do two shows a year,” said Stringer. “One in November and one in March. That will get more plays out, more actors (and) more attention for us.”

Named “Festival of Dionysus,” this year’s series of plays features both tragedies and comedies. It was inspired by a large festival that was held in ancient Athens honouring the Greek god Dionysus.  The stories went from light-hearted to emotional, touching upon themes like love, friendship, tragedy and betrayal.

Each play was created and performed by students. Setting up the show has been a year-long process, said RCT vice-president Julianna Notten.

Several performers were heavily involved from Day 1. They read and picked scripts submitted by students, held auditions and took on multiple acting roles in the six plays.

Stringer took on triple-duty as the writer, director and an actor in the first play, A Ninja Named Desire. Funny, quirky and filled with puns, the play follows the cynical owner of a curiousity shop. The shop owner acquires a dangerous book. Meanwhile he pines with unspoken love for a regular customer. Fate changes however, as a ninja named Desire is suddenly released.

Switching gears from funny to sad, Divya Chand’s I Had Gotten My Answer takes a look at the changing face of religion. The play, in which Chand also acts, examines the lives of two lovers in India who are separated by religious and political conflict.

Things get a little more emotional with Knight at the Beach and Aftermath, where two friendships are tested by the past. In Knight at the Beach, written by Anna Spencer, two childhood friends examine what went wrong during their relationship and why they drifted apart. The play was directed by Emma Alderman.

Madeline Lemire’s Aftermath, however, is more intense. A tale of betrayal, bullying and violence, the play surrounds three young woman questioning their place in the world and how their actions affect one another.

Though the set changes and prop designs tended to be a little awkward, the do-it-yourself efforts of RCT are admirable. Several of those involved are amateur actors; their only training was a few scene study workshops hosted by the club during the school year.

While on a limited budget, the club, which prides itself as “the best kept secret on campus,” relies on handmade sets and props borrowed from Ryerson’s theatre school to complement their plays. Another challenge these students faced was finding appropriate space and a proper stage for the performances.

The standout of the showcase was the grand finale, written and directed by Notten. Called If All Else Fails, the play is set in a dystopian world where the environment is damaged beyond repair. Set in three different scenes, characters are faced with difficult decisions. One woman weighs an abortion, a nervous, earnest young man loses his virginity and a woman has an assisted suicide after losing her girlfriend and parents to this brutal dystopian world.

Though the showcase ended on a heavy note, the note was at least a complex one, highlighting the talent in RCT.

Photos courtesy of Julianna Notten

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 2, 2014.

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