Monday, January 23, 2012

Me and My People - Other People - Play Review

Other People - The Tank Theatre at the Young Centre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Christopher Shinn, Directed by Aaron Willis

I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable watching "Other People" act awkwardly towards each other. For that, Other People, the play, was a fascinating look at the connections we try to form with other people, and our self destructive nature we seem to inherently have in building the bonds we want. With a terrific cast of young Toronto up-and-coming actors giving outstanding performances, Other People easily becomes a self-investigating look at our own relationships.

Shinn's play works best in its realistic moments of conversation or the awkward moments that come about. Roommates and friends Petra (Tatiana Maslany) and Stephen (Ben Lewis) invite Stephen's ex-boyfriend Mark (Indrit Kasapi) to stay with them as he returns from a bout in rehab. The intelligent Petra hides her job as a stripper from her roommates, and then finds her mind and personality as the object of a man's (Mike McPhaden) fascination. Meanwhile, Stephen says he's still loves Mark, but Mark, who has turned religious, finds himself entangled with a street kid named Tan (Brendan McMurtry-Howlett). Stephen finds Mark's religious epiphany a little perplexing, and returns to meet a bad date named Darren (Richard Lee).

Tatiana Maslany (Dog Sees God) gives an intelligent and thoughtful performance in Petra. She easily draws in the audience, never needing to fully explain her choice to strip for money, and yet still making Petra feel instantly relatable in her inability to move beyond the emotional boundaries she sets herself. McPhaden is instantly likable as the shlubby man, and his connection with Maslany's Petra gives Other People its heart, while Shinn gives Petra probably the best speeches and the best lines, including the explanation for the play's title.

Stephen is the centre of all the relationships axis and Ben Lewis (Dog Sees God, Degrassi: TNG) is a perfect foil as our audiences' entry point. Indrit Kasapi gives a solemn and mysterious performance as newly religious Mark and Lewis's Stephen outwardly vocalizes and reacts in the same manner I would have to such a turn of events.

Kasapi's performance is "weird" because I would find the same types of people's spin in life sort of weird and mysterious, and Kasapi nails down the role. When a completely energetic and confident Tan (a refreshing Brendan McMurtry-Howlett) pops into Mark's life, Mark is slowly drawn out yet afraid, with Kasapi slowly revealing the layers Mark is trying to keep tight.

Shinn's play falters at moments when it sacrifices realism with jolts to move the plot along, but when it settles backs into the conversations between Petra and the man, Stephen and Darren (a funny Richard Lee in a small role), Stephen and Mark, Mark and Tan, and when the roommates all converge in the apartment they live together in, yet not truly understanding each other's lives, does Other People hit its stride.

I left the show not exactly liking it, because it so easily makes you self-reflect into our own disconnections in our life. I liked the play because it's a perfect starting point to a great discussion. Despite some characters being strippers, or multi-millionaires and crack addicts, I found myself easily recognizable in all of these other people on stage, and making similar mistakes. The play isn't fun per se, since it gives the audiences so much to think about, but that's sort of the point, and it's taken me a few days to write this review because I keep trying to wrap my brain around each characters stories. Luckily, despite the sadness the play brings up, the production is clever and witty with some tremendous performances from some of the best young actors to watch out for. These are people to take notice of.

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