Review: blackShow (inspiraTO Festival)

Getting Two Gay Men Naked in Ten Minutes or Less - inspiraTO 2016Many gems in series of 10-minute plays, now on the Toronto stage

The 11th annual inspiraTO festival is under way at Alumnae Theatre. It’s a festival of 10-minute plays, 24 of them divided into four shows. I saw blackShow/powerShift on Saturday. Thanks to Teresa Bottaro for getting me a ticket at the last minute on her day off and to my migraine for easing up so I could go out.

I love short plays. Telling a story in 10 minutes is hard: the playwright has to strip out everything that isn’t essential and cut immediately to the heart of the story. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does the plays are tiny gems.

The first play was Altervista by Donovan Jackson who also performed the piece. Jackson’s friend is an alien who hides in a box after being bullied. Jackson is trying to get him to come out of the box and enlists the audience to create energy to help him. The audience waves their arms and Jackson dances.

This one didn’t really appeal to me. There was an ‘in your face’ lesson at the end and I’m just not a fan of those. To me it felt like a play that would be well suited to children.

Next up was Getting Two Gay Men Naked in Ten Minutes or Less by Larson Rose. I liked this one a lot. Larsen’s script was great: funny and quite sweet. Ben (Graham Dalgleish) is trying to write a terrific play that is under 10 minutes – a little meta – and his husband Rakeem (Shawn Lall) is trying to help him, encouraging him to move outside his comfort zone. He thinks the men in the play should be naked.

There’s a lot happening in 10 minutes as they roleplay various scenarios trying to find ways that nudity makes sense and is in context. Rakeem is enthusiastically naked; Ben, not so enthusiastic.

The third play was Drip, written and directed by Jeff Jones. Erin (Kyra Soukup) is hurting and unhappy. She cuts to relieve the pressure. Soukup sings the piece and she has a beautiful voice. Director Jones makes excellent use of a very small performance space, and Erin moves enough to keep our attention without moving into the audience.

There is some very realistic cutting. For a moment I thought that Erin had actually cut herself. Impressive special effect. This is a dark subject beautifully presented.

Family Game Night by Peter Kennedy was the fourth play. I loved it. It was definitely my favourite of the six. Well written with natural dialogue, well acted by a talented cast, and about a subject that we don’t want to discuss, but should.

Andrea (Hannah Vanden Boomen) has brought a new game for family game night. Her brother Max (Daniel Pascale) isn’t impressed and doesn’t want to play. He thinks the game looks amateurish and asks Andrea if she made it herself. Mom (Claudia Veira) is quietly keeping the peace and moving things along. Dad (Josh Downing) is dying.

I was particularly impressed that Kennedy managed to fit a plot twist into a 10 minute play. And the game! If it doesn’t exist, it should. Although I’m not sure you could get people to play a game about death and dying.

The fifth play, Witnesses by Dominik Loncar, left me kind of confused. I would say it’s a dystopian story, although not necessarily set in the future. The Inspector (Jeffrey H Kennes) confronts his wife, Woman (Madeleine Brown), and her lover, Man (David Carcasole), not about their affair, but about spying.

The cast take turns playing the interrogator and the interrogated. I found it difficult to know who was being what at various times. The audience is part of the play, although we didn’t have to do anything. We were there as witnesses.

The final play was 20/20 by Amanda Healy. Twentysomething Oliver (Conor Ling) arrives to pick up his former lover Zelda (Christina Leonard) to go to their friend’s funeral. He walks in and criticizes her dress which doesn’t bode well for their relationship.

He’s about to join the military because he can’t find a job and she’s living at home for the same reason. It seemed to me that they were both all about themselves. I also found the dialogue stilted. I really need to be able to connect in some way with a play and I just couldn’t with this one — maybe because the characters didn’t seem to connect with each other.

blackShow plays are performed in the studio and in the Trinity room at Alumnae Theatre. The upside of this is that the audience moves between spaces, so all the setup is done and the play starts as soon as the audience arrives. The downside is that there’s a fair amount of stair-climbing.

Trinity is a very small room and there aren’t enough chairs for the audience so some people have to sit on the floor or stand for the three plays. The studio also isn’t air-conditioned and it was hot on Saturday. You might want to bring a fan.

I’m glad I was able to go to the show. For me, enjoying three of the six pieces in a festival like this is a win.


  • The blackShow is playing as part of the InspiraTO Festival until June 11, 2016 at The Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street)
  • Performances are:
    Tues. June 7; 8 pm
    Thurs. June 9; 9 pm
    Fri. June 10; 8 pm
    Sat. June 11; 2 pm and 6 pm
  • Ticket prices are $25, with Festival passes for all four shows at $75 and are available online or through the box office at (416) 483-2222. There are also promo codes available on the website for 15% off when purchasing online and for a 30% student discount with a valid student I.D.
  • Warning – Nudity on one play, smoking (herbal cigarette) in another, and self-harm in a third

Photo of Shawn Lall and Graham Dalgleish in Getting Two Men Naked in Ten Minutes or Less