Review: PostSecret, at Firehall Arts Centre until February 7

Description and tickets: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/postsecret-show/

Frank Warren’s long-running art project is discussed in his TED talk. In short, Warren requested people send him postcards, with text and art, that exposed a secret that the sender had never told anyone else. Warren had no background as an artist, but this has become a very long-running art project and Warren’s full-time occupation since 2004. You can see new secrets posted every day on the website: http://postsecret.com/.

I was very intrigued by this show, which I first heard was happening when I saw director TJ Dawe perform his show Medicine at the Firehall in early 2012. In the Q&A for that show, Dawe mentioned he working on PostSecret: The Show (and I see now that work started in 2010). It has since progressed into a North-America-wide production and has been touring since spring 2014.

How does a bunch of postcards become a show? It’s an alchemy that you will have to see to understand. PostSecret: The Show is not a standard theatre work, for sure. Film, music, the destruction of the fourth wall, and some improvisation, but none of this explains the emotional experience of seeing the show. The actors move seamlessly around the stage, which is set up with comfortable sofas.

That said, there seem to be an awful lot of people who love to play pranks on fellow shoppers. Feminine hygiene products in men’s shopping carts, pregnancy tests in middle-aged women’s carts, flavored condoms in seniors’ carts, naked pictures in books. Warren says that secrets can be “shocking, or silly, or soulful”, and the emotional range of the secrets did move all over and across the spectrum, from bullying and rape and anorexia and suicide to silly pranks and happy thoughts to suicide, in no particular order. However, although the secrets were often hard to hear, this huge range did not feel disjointed.

I am always glad to attend post-show Q&As, and this is the third Q&A I have seen with TJ Dawe in his various works. Dawe explained why certain choices were made, how the cast had met Frank Warren and some details about him and his work, about the stacks and stacks of secrets in Frank’s basement (and how he reads every one). I asked a question about the uncertainty of truth in respect to these secrets. Dawe was not perturbed by this. He said that if someone has made an art project of a secret, it is expressing a truth of some sort, even if it’s not the maker’s own experience. All art is autobiographical.

PostSecret had an app for a short period of time, but online trolls brought it down. However, the subsequent apps Secret and Whisper (both unrelated to PostSecret) are similar in concept. In my brief forays into these two apps, though, I mostly find they are tiresome and uninteresting. The first website is definitely the best. Undoubtedly the act of actually having to create an artistic postcard and mail it discourages a lot of nonsense, as opposed to the ease of typing a few words on one’s iPhone.

Review: Kayak, at Firehall until January 17

Firehall page: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/kayak/

There’s much to be said for novelty of placement and staging. “Kayak” opens with the lead character Annie Iverson (played by well-known actress Susan Hogan) sitting in a kayak, which is a definite change from the typical desk or table or bed. What is Annie doing in a kayak? She’s struggling, it seems, and she’s not happy with the situation. We quickly find out that Iverson is an unreliable narrator. She will go to great lengths to get what she wants. We, the audience, are fair game for manipulation, just like her son and husband and the son’s girlfriend. But what exactly is going on with Annie and the kayak?

Photo credit (Chena San Martin)

Photo credit (Chena San Martin)

Annie proceeds by flashbacks to tell us what has been going on with her son, and with the itinerant girlfriend that she so despises.

Julie (played by Marisa Smith) is a charming, earnest environmental protester who keeps trying and trying and traveling and traveling from one environmental disaster spot to another, even when it’s clear to her that it’s not doing much good. Peter is Annie’s son, and he is in love with this girl of which his mother so heartily disapproves. The fact that he follows a corporate lifestyle that his mother has enforced is a constant source of tension between him and Julie.

The play is full of humour. Environmental issues are brought up throughout, but the interplay among the characters ensures that the environmental message does not become tiresome.

The play touches on some important questions. Is every moment spent in enjoyment a betrayal of the urgency of the world’s environmental situation? Is it appropriate to “go easy” on loved ones who aren’t environmentally perfect? Does protest achieve anything? What obligations do children have to their parents when the children want to take on risky ventures? Is it OK to lie?

Playwright Jordan Hall has provided us a provocative, funny, and engaging play. See it and find out what your take is.