FoundFest 2015: Air is intimate, intense, and authentic

If you loved the intensity and authenticity of The Suburban Motel Series earlier this year, get yourself to Air, presented by the Major Matt Mason Collective as part of Found Festival, running until June 28.

Before I talk about Air, I want to talk briefly about the prelude to the show. As Festival Director Andrew Ritchie said in our interview to preview the festival, part of the fun of Found Festival is the adventure of it. Finding the location – in the case of Air, that adventure is walking throughout the gorgeous Old Strathcona neighbourhood until you stumble along something that looks like a lemonade stand, but instead of lemonade, they’re selling tickets to a show. It was a really delightful way to start off a show and a festival that’s all about unique, site-specific performances in found space.

At Found Festival, Air is performed in the living room of a house in Old Strathcona and I can’t think of a more perfect space to see this play. Air is a 60-minute journey through a drug deal gone wrong – very wrong. The show starts as two roommates – Mike (Joe Perry) and Kyle (Evan Medd) – are rehashing the previous night’s party. Things quickly go downhill as it turns out that the weed they sold from Kyle’s brother’s stash to pay the rent actually belonged to a major drug dealer and Kyle’s brother now needs to go see him to do some explaining. All bets are off though, as one of the drug dealer’s henchmen comes to see Mike and Kyle – they panic and kidnap him and have to deal with the consequences.

Similar to how The Suburban Motel Series portrayed scenes that could be happening in a motel on the outskirts of any city, Air was another one of those shows about desperate people in no-win situations that might be playing out – for real – somewhere else in our city right now.

All of the characters in Air – from Mike and Kyle, to Kyle’s brother, to the drug dealer and his henchman – are trapped situations that, no matter what they do, they’re still going to be in trouble. The choices that are open to them are really not choices so much as options that lead to either a worse situation or a terrible situation. The characters have become trapped in lifestyles where there is no way out and even the next logical step will continue to get you in deeper and deeper shit. Both Geoffrey Simon Brown’s fantastic writing, which reveals the characters truly limited options, and the intimate performance space that makes you feel like a fourth roommate inadvertently pulled into this mess, shows audiences that it’s not always as simple as choosing to do the ‘right’ thing. Or that it’s not as simple as someone making one bad choice and having to live with the consequences. Sometimes it’s a matter of making the least bad choice and being forced down a path of ‘bad’ and ‘less bad’ choices. There’s a beautiful line about three-quarters of the way through the play that essentially sums this up, something to the effect of whether you like or not, we’re in this situation, so what are we going to do about it? There are no do-overs, the only thing you can do is to keep moving forward.

In such an intimate space as where Air was performed, great acting is the only element a production can’t compromise on. In this case, the set, lighting, and sound are more background elements than ever since the audience’s close proximity and the high intensity of the piece places even more intense scrutiny on the actors. The Major Matt Mason Collective does not disappoint in this regard either. There’s a lot of emotion in this compact piece, and the actors rose to the challenge. Special props to Joe Perry and Evan Medd, who were on stage with the intensity dialed up to 100 for the entirety of the show. Again, the acting goes back to the theme of the show in that it’s not one bad choice that gets someone into trouble, it’s a series of no-win choices. These characters were portrayed with the humanity they deserved. As Kyle – the worrier of the duo – Evan Medd projected a constant state of anxiety and always weighing the options left – if not out loud then you could see it happening in his head. His counterpart, Joe Perry in the role of Mike, had a bit more of a subtle role – balancing joking and trying to keep things upbeat on the exterior, with knowledge of the gravity of the situation that was just as deep as Kyle’s.

A final shout-out to the fight choreography – Air was probably the most physical show I’ve ever seen. Being in a non-traditional theatre space with very tight quarters amplified this physicality and the precision the physical interactions had to be executed with. I can imagine it took a lot of rehearsing to choreograph something that looked so real and violent while still being safe for the actors and audience.

Air has four more performances that are part of Found Festival – June 27 at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m and June 28 at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Performances are at a house in Old Strathcona – 10820 – 79 avenue. Tickets are $10 from the Found Festival box office at Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Gazebo Park (83 avenue and 104 street) and each show’s capacity is 30 people.

Found Festival continues until June 28 – check out CommonGroundArts.ca for schedule and ticket information, or drop by the festival headquarters in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Gazebo Park. For an audio interview with Festival Director Andrew Ritchie and Promotions Manager Lianna Makuch, check out the What It Is podcast’s episode 72: Found & Freewill.

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