This year's Tremors features a trio of plays: Selfie, Tiny Replicas & Theory.
This year's Tremors features a trio of plays: Selfie, Tiny Replicas & Theory.

Forget Netflix and chill, how about Tremors and skill? The biennial Tremors Festival of Emerging Talent is back at the Italian Cultural Centre with a trio of binge worthy shows.

There is no denying Tremors can be a bit of a marathon, especially if you decide to see all three plays in a single evening. And even while the three plays themselves may not be perfect, there is enough skill on (and off) the Festival’s three stages to make it worthwhile.

Theory

In Norman Yeung’s Theory, a tenure-track professor of critical thinking opens an anonymous, unmoderated, and uncensored online discussion group for her class on film theory. The online discourse, like many in IRL, very quickly devolves into personal attacks, and worse. Taking it one step further, Yeung attempts to bridge the fine divide between an anonymous world of words and real-life consequences.

In Theory, a social experiment takes a dark turn when online comments become abusive and threatening.
In Theory, a social experiment takes a dark turn when online comments become abusive and threatening.

Not surprisingly there is a cinematic quality to Yeung’s play and one cannot help but think it may be better as a screenplay. Leaning heavily into the playwright’s film aesthetic, director Mily Mumford largely places the students among the audience. While it may play into Theory’s debate on anonymity, and more importantly on society’s communication evolution, we miss seeing the reactions from the students, something a film treatment would be able to capture more easily. It would have also helped in creating the necessary tension as the action moves from the classroom and into the real world.

Underscoring the cinematic quality further, set designer Allyson Fournier gives us two film “frames” on either side of the stage. It is a clever blur, given this is where the real world action takes place. Taking it a step further, Kyle Stooshnov’s provides a series of projections, designed as another bridge from theory to reality. Assuming many of these projections provide connecting points, it is only the true cinephile who will likely find them. In fact, this production benefits greatly from its production elements that also include Patrick Boudreau’s lighting and Keagan Elrick’s sound designs.

Mumford has assembled a compelling cast. Mariam Barry does some of her best work here as the professor’s wife. Given the cinematic vibe, it is a suitably nuanced and understated performance. As the professor, Elizabeth Willow gives the required natural performance.

Under Mumford’s direction Jesse DeCoste is effective, although he doesn’t quite reach the creepy heights of an Anthony Perkins in Psycho (a scene from which makes an appearance), but he is also letdown by the inability to build his presence.

Haris Amiri, Valeria Ascolese, Kimberly Ho play the remaining students, each able to find the reality in a group of characters which could easily be stereotypes. Jed Weiss has the unenviable job as the department head Owen, who feels almost forced into Yeung’s play.

As an intellectual exercise, Theory works by asking some compelling questions. As a thriller though, it doesn’t quite reach the level of tension necessary.

Tiny Replicas

It has been eight years since Tiny Replicas was first produced at the Neanderthal Arts Festival (now the rEvolver Festival). And while some of its politics around same-sex parents going the surrogacy route in Canada may already feel a little dated, it remains a touching and surprisingly funny story about starting a family.

Simon and Ethan want to have a baby…but they can’t do it without the help of Dayna and Audrey.
Simon and Ethan want to have a baby…but they can’t do it without the help of Dayna and Audrey.

In Tiny Replicas, Simon and Ethan want a baby. Enlisting the help of their lesbian friend Dayna to provide an egg, their straight friend Audrey agrees to be the surrogate. Bringing a new life into the world is never easy, but this unconventional family works through the unique obstacles to make it a reality.

In my review eight years ago, it was Simon’s story which rang truest, and in this newest production it is no different. This is largely due to Douglas Ennenberg’s absolutely terrific performance, filled with heartache and joy. There is an ease to Ennenberg’s performance that is wonderfully satisfying. Last seen in Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, Ennenberg deservedly received a nomination for his work earlier this year in Pi Theatre’s The Events. He continues to be one to watch.

Matching Ennenberg’s performance note-for-note is Paige Louter as Dayna. Headstrong and bullish, Louter makes her softening edges authentic. As Simon’s best friend Jude, Andrew Lynch embraces his character’s stereotype with a surprising believability.

Alexander Lowe and Brownyn Henderson round out the cast as Simon’s boyfriend Ethan, and his best friend Audrey. Both given credible performances, but Henderson is hampered somewhat in delivering due to Shelby Bushell’s unconventional staging which saw the room divided into four playing areas. From my vantage point, Henderson’s scenes at her home were impossible to see.

In fact, it is in director Bushell’s decision to place the action at various locations around the room which were the most problematic. While one can certainly appreciate how difficult it is for an actor to perform mere inches from the audience, the odd configuration of seating and playing areas made some sightlines difficult. Having sat in a seat directly besides the bar in which Simon and Jude spend time, Tyler Dumoulin’s overly loud music made it difficult to hear the two mere feet away. Dumoulin also provides musical transitions between scenes which at times felt more at home in a television sitcom.

Eight years ago Tiny Replicas felt fresh and current. And even while its politics felt more real nearly a decade ago, it remains a delightfully uplifting story about queer baby making.

Selfie

Christine Quintana’s Selfie is an interesting choice for a festival like Tremors. While it ticks the box as a Vancouver-based playwright, it is a show intended for a much younger audience than those who found themselves in room three at nearly 10:00pm on opening night.

A part of the Theatre for Young Audiences genre, Selfie is a modern-day morality play set against high school life and our increasingly connected social media world. As questions of consent come to the forefront, things get very real.

What happens when an incident shatters the connections between three friends?
What happens when an incident shatters the connections between three friends?

While an exploration of the dangerous pitfalls of social media are nothing new, what is new is in Quintana’s no-holds barred approach. Holding back few punches, the playwright has refused to temper its language or its subject matter. There is no question Selfie is the reality for many high school students, and it will no doubt be as challenging for some parents to watch, as it is important for their children to see.

Playing the three high school students is a terrific trio consisting of Carlen Escarraga, Olivia Lang, and Grace Le. Not that far from high school themselves, they bring a reality to these young characters, making what transpires that much more devastating and complex. The three work well off each other, making their relationships that much more credible.

Director Pedro Chamale provides one of the more traditional stagings of the evening, while still managing to keep things interesting. Where one could easily see the use of digital screens for most of Vanka Salim’s projections, the stark white low-tech screens from set designer Emily Fraser are a clever, and an obviously more modestly expensive, solution.

Asking complex questions in an increasingly complex world, Selfie is a view into a world that feels real, even for those of us who have only distant memories of life in high school.

Two years ago at Tremors I grumbled about the stifling heat inside Vancouver’s Italian Cultural Centre. I’m pleased to say, on opening night at least, the only heat this year was coming from the Festival’s three stages.

And to top it all off with a pay-what-you-want model should have audiences flocking to see our city’s next generation of theatre professionals.

Tremors Festival of Emerging Artists continues at the Italian Cultural Centre (3075 Slocan St, Vancouver) until August 25. Visit rumble.org for tickets and information.

Editor’s Note (19 August): the Theory review was edited to correct the misspelling of director Mily Mumford’s name and incorrect attribution of lighting and sound designers. We apologize for these errors.