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Review: St. John’s Shorts Festival begins a long run

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The St. John’s Shorts Festival is underway in the capital city, a 10-day event at the LSPU Hall running until Sept. 24 .

With so many evenings of short skits to choose from, I let my work schedule do the deciding. My limited availability allowed me to head to the Hall, taking in four of the 14 plays that will hit the stage throughout the festival.

Judith Thompson’s “Nail Biter,” directed by Berni  Stapleton and performed by Patrick Foran, was first on the bill. Foran delivered his character David’s lengthy monologue with intensity. Lamenting recent tribulations at his government job, he explained his obsessive urge to bite his nails, and the psychological  and physical torture that his compulsive habit brings.

The audience would soon learn about the role this government worker played in the controversy surrounding Omar Khadr, a case that was laden with details about psychological and physical torture far beyond nail biting. The short was dark, poignant, and left a lasting impression, like the case kept many glued to the media for months.

Next was playwright Darren Ivany’s “Cashin Avenue,” with Reg Hoskins directing. Ivany starred as Billy in his short, alongside Jane, played by Kimberley Drake. Dressed in familiar local “skeet” regalia, we watched the pair hold a discussion that soon turned into an argument over their former relationship, as well as immigration, education, the job market, drug use, and the current opioid crisis. The laugh-out-loud skit, littered with emphatic curse words, eventually took a surprising twist that hushed laughter, the audience clinging to every word in the dialogue. In an effort to refrain from sharing spoilers, I’ll shut up, but not before saying that I would have re-watched this immediately after the standing ovation subsided. A+.

Katherine Sherman’s ‘Grunge is Dead’ was third.

 The simple set represented a bedroom, in which Tessa (Laura Huckle) and Leo (Michael Smith) were hanging out together.

Seemingly drunk, on drugs, or innocently letting their imaginations run wild, the couple played together like excited children. As adults, however, their behaviour could probably be categorized as dissociative disorder, with a side order of mania.

I began to question if the female character was having a mental breakdown, as it seemed like her partner was trying to calm her. The audience would soon figure out the grim reality of the situation. I would learn of this ending upon leaving the theatre, after the last skit.

Last on the docket was Cole Hayley’s “Apes,”,which  used the same set and actors as “Grunge is Dead.” Despite the applause, I did not clue into that we had moved on to the next short. I scribbled furiously in my notepad “Different outfits, different names? Is this a different skit?” I spent the entirety of the short trying (and failing) to connect the dots.

After discussing the shorts with other attendees and understanding my misunderstanding, (thankfully, I was not the only one), I now understand Hayley’s plotline, and his characters — a girlfriend denying the death of her rock-star boyfriend by paying a man to impersonate her former flame.

If the rest of the festival is anything like Friday night, snag a ticket now — you’ll be surprised at what you see and apparently, what you may not see at the same time.

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