Amateur theatre is like training wheels for the larger community. Sometimes there’s extreme promise in the awkward teeter of the first few feet, but other times, the pit bull that lives down the road hops his fence and inflicts twenty-eight stitches worth of damage. Oddly, 8-0-8 Productions’ new pair of one-acts reflects both the potential for greatness in the community niche and the chance for a very rough end to the day.
Fetish, the first of the two plays, represents the former. It centers around a teenaged girl who sells her underwear on the internet, and her torrid affair with an older man. A discourse on simultaneous promotion and condemnation of pedophilia by North American culture disguised as a script, Fetish’s dark sense of humour and jaded tone are easily its greatest strengths. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes itself too seriously–the slick, elevated language verging into the pretentious, the bitter messages stepping dangerously close to sappy or preachy.
As the lead of the piece, Jessica Robertshaw shows the same possibility for greatness that’s sometimes marred by over-projection–anger or tears in her voice when resignation would have been more effective. Like the rest of Fetish, though, the small flaws in her performance aren’t nearly enough to interfere with the enjoyment of it. The second of the two pieces, though, is inflicted with the converse.
The Fifth Option tells the story of a psychiatrist who specializes in counseling the victims of torture, wrapped in the profound observation that men have a biological tendency toward violence. Never mind that its message could be culled from the first chapter of an introductory psychology textbook, it’s the unintended silliness of delivery that makes it even harder to take seriously.
The piece opens with a joke: “What do you get when you bash a nun’s head in with a sledgehammer? An erection.” Then, while a client is relaying a particularly vivid torture sequence to the unfortunate doctor, he–wait for it–gets an erection. The parallel points out that, for some men, sexual violence isn’t always as repulsive as it should be. Sadly, the doctors’ descriptions and explanations spiral so quickly into absurdity that it actually becomes funny.
While The Fifth Option has to struggle past its pedestrian subtext in performance, the story itself might have stood a chance if executed with some kind of restraint. As the troubled protagonist, William C. McCormick is unable to present the slightest bit of the subtlety or depth of feeling that would be needed to lend the role any believability. It’s like watching a nine-year-old pretend to be Hannibal Lector–it’s creepy, but not for the reason he’d like it to be. So as it sometimes goes with amateur companies, McCormick just doesn’t have the experience to pull off such a complicated role.
Despite the imperfections it has, 8-0-8’s new show still holds appeal for those with an interest in community theatre, or those who want to keep an eye out for up-and-coming talent. The overall strength of Fetish certainly carries the show a certain distance, but even the relative weakness of The Fifth Option doesn’t render the whole affair unwatchable. Ultimately, the performance avoids the murderous bulldog, but doesn’t escape without skinned knees.