CENTRE STAGE: PuSh Festival kicks off; Motherfucker with the Hat is a hit

Vu is a genius work of silent theatre.

The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival kicked off on January 19, and with over 150 performances, it can seem like every show in town is part of the festival. During its first week, I had the chance to check out Intimacy from Australia’s Ranters Theatre, and Vu from France’s Compagnie Sacékripa.

Intimacy is based on an intriguing concept. Theatre artist Adriano Cortese sought strangers on the street, asked them to talk, and then used that material to compose the show. There are four scenes inspired by real encounters, and each story is unique and a bit offbeat, for instance, one is about a man who stands on a box performing different bird gestures, and another about a woman who finds it extremely difficult to sleep.

Overall, I found the scenes too long, and I had hoped there would be more variety over the course of the show. Each character was dwelled on a bit too long, and there were often long, silent pauses with the actors staring at the audience. The dialogue was already quite slow and, at times, laborious, so I didn’t see the need for this.

Vu, performed by Etienne Manceau, was a genius work of silent theatre. It’s reminiscent of Mr. Bean’s sandwich-making-on-a-park-bench scene (look this up if you haven’t seen it). The difference with Vu is that Manceau is seated on a miniature chair at a miniature table, and is meticulously making a cup of tea.  

He sticks the teabag in the end of a long, narrow tube and shoots it into the mug of hot water, he slingshots in the sugar cube, and every movement and gesture in between is precise and calculated. One of the best bits was how he struck the match to light a candle: he taped it to the end of a rolled up piece of paper and stuck into the end of the narrow tube, and blew it out the end to strike it against the matchbox at just the right angle.

Playing at the Firehall Arts Centre until January 30, The Motherfucker with the Hat is an intimate look at addiction and the lives of five characters struggling to navigate their relationships with each other. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis writes razor sharp dialogue and brings the story to life with plenty of colourful language and humour.

This first production from the locally based Haberdashery Theatre Company is a hit. From the first monologue that Veronica (Kyra Zagorsky) has over the phone with her mother while snorting cocaine, the play flies by without a dull moment.

Jackie (Stephen Lobo) is out on parole, he’s found a job, and life is looking good. He comes home to share the joy with his girlfriend Veronica, but things turn sour when he sees an unidentified hat on the table. Although he confronts Veronica, she claims that nobody has been there and that he’s imagining the worst.

Meanwhile, Jackie’s AA sponsor, Ralph (John Cassini), tries to keep Jackie from resorting to violence or a bottle by sharing his philosophy on life and providing disingenuous advice. Ralph’s wife, Victoria (Lori Triolo), knows that Ralph has been cheating on her, and when she lets that out of the bag, things get even more exciting.

The play contrasts the moral viewpoints of Jackie and Ralph, showing that someone who is sober and appears to be a good person can be worse than someone who succumbs to their weaknesses but has good intentions. Francisco Trujillo joins the cast as Jackie’s flamboyant, loyal cousin, and there is something in these troubled characters for everyone to relate to.