Root­ing for our lo­cal play­wrights

South Shore Breaker - - Page Two - VER­NON OICKLE THE VIEW FROM HERE ver­non.l.oickle@east­link.ca

First, be­fore I go any fur­ther, I must make a con­fes­sion: I am not a the­atre critic, but I do en­joy go­ing to the the­atre and I know what I like.

A few months ago, I had the dis­tinct plea­sure of at­tend­ing an in­vi­ta­tion-only per­for­mance of a unique play that will have its world­wide premier at the Liver­pool In­ter­na­tional The­atre Fes­ti­val (LITF) be­ing held later this month from Oct. 18 to 21.

Liver­pool am­a­teur play­wright, Greg Tutty, is a ta­lented per­son I am happy to call a friend. He is thrilled to be pre­sent­ing his orig­i­nal play, Oliver’s Bench, on the Oct. 18 open­ing night of the 14th LITF, as he should be. As I said, I am not a the­atre critic, but I know a good story when I see it. Such was the case with Oliver’s Bench.

The first LITF was held in May 1992 and over the past 22 years, the event has hosted the­atre troupes from all over the world. Since that time, the fes­ti­val has grown and is now a well-re­garded event on the am­a­teur the­atre fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

The lineup for this year’s fes­ti­val is as di­verse as the home coun­tries of the per­form­ers. A dozen the­atre troupes from the Cen­tral African Re­pub­lic, Egypt, Mex­ico, Nepal, Iran, China, Ar­gentina, Wales, Peru, Bangladesh and Liver­pool have been in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in the event be­ing held at the his­toric As­tor The­atre in Liver­pool.

Oliver’s Bench is un­like any other play I’ve ever seen. It’s an hour-long roller coaster ride of emo­tions as the au­di­ence is in­vited to ob­serve a small por­tion of Oliver’s life. We fig­ure out very quickly that this bench is in a spe­cial lo­ca­tion to Oliver and that, clearly, it’s near and dear to him.

Oliver, played flaw­lessly by the very ta­lented Liver­pool thes­pian, Al Steele, is best de­scribed as an in­tro­vert whose world in­ti­mately re­volves around a park bench. In any­one else’s hands, Oliver could have been a flat, lin­ear char­ac­ter. How­ever, through Steele, a vet­eran of many lo­cal the­atre pro­duc­tions, the so­cially in­hib­ited char­ac­ter comes to life with ges­tures and fa­cial ex­pres­sions, touch­ing the au­di­ence in a way I could never have imag­ined with­out ever ut­ter­ing one sin­gle word.

Give that man a Tony … or some kind of act­ing award.

Tutty also de­serves an award as he has mas­ter­fully cre­ated an in­ti­mate play about a man, a bench and a small cir­cle of peo­ple he en­coun­ters on the bench. In one word, it is sim­ply ge­nius.

As de­scribed by Tutty, an ac­tive mem­ber of the Liver­pool Winds of Change Dra­matic So­ci­ety and who has pre­vi­ously di­rected two other pro­duc­tions for the group, this play tells the story of Oliver, a sim­ple, unas­sum­ing man who hap­pily spends his days in soli­tude sit­ting on a bench in a park be­side a lake.

A man of rou­tine habits and or­der, Oliver tries his best to put up walls to pro­tect his safe, lit­tle world. How­ever, de­spite his best ef­forts, one day a quirky woman man­ages to find her way in, break­ing down his imag­i­nary bar­rier. Con­flict arises as Oliver is forced to ad­just to new sit­u­a­tions and ac­cept the con­se­quences, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, of let­ting his guard down and open­ing up to some­one he doesn’t know.

With this non-ver­bal play, the writer in­vites the au­di­ence into the park and al­lows us to watch and in­ter­pret the story in their own way with­out ben­e­fit of words. Not an easy task, but the small cast al­lows us to draw our own con­clu­sions. Well done.

When asked about the play, Tutty mod­estly ex­plains, “It was quite a task to write a play with a story that can hold the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion for 55 min­utes with­out any­one say­ing a sin­gle word. As a mat­ter of fact, when I first de­vel­oped the con­cept and wrote the play five years ago, I re­ally wasn’t sure how it would go over. I tucked it away in a file and for­got about it.”

How­ever, he says, the pres­i­dent of the Winds of Change, An­nette Burke, re­ally be­lieved in the play and con­vinced him to sub­mit it to the Winds of Change board, who were at the time look­ing for a play to sub­mit to LITF 2018.

Hap­pily for Tutty and luck­ily for the au­di­ence, the board loved the play and the con­cept. Mem­bers unan­i­mously voted to sum­mit the play to the LITF artis­tic di­rec­tors for con­sid­er­a­tion. The play was ul­ti­mately cho­sen to be part of the lineup for LITF 2018 and is the only Cana­dian play to be cho­sen.

Tutty gen­er­ously praises his cast and crew who, he says, be­lieved in this project as much as he did and who un­selfishly gave him many hours of com­mit­ment and hard work.

In par­tic­u­lar, he says, “Al Steele gave me all that I asked for and more. His pow­er­ful per­for­mance is ex­tremely mov­ing and poignant. The bril­liant An­nette Burke plays Faith, and first-timer Teresa Clarke rounds out my ta­lented cast.”

He also cred­its pro­ducer and as­sis­tant stage man­ager Jean Robin­son-dex­ter, along with stage man­ager Les­lie Clarke, for help­ing to bring his vi­sion to life. The light­ing, de­signed by Jon Pater­son of the As­tor The­atre, is also im­por­tant to the play for mood and am­biance.

Tutty says his in­spi­ra­tion for this play was very sim­ple. “I was walk­ing in a water­front park in Liver­pool one sum­mer’s day a few years back when I rounded a cor­ner and sur­prised a lady sit­ting on a park bench. I re­ally spooked her and her re­ac­tion was quite an­i­mated. I was quite taken aback.”

It was clear, he says, the woman was not ex­pect­ing him to be there and she ob­vi­ously didn’t want him there.

“I quickly walked away. All the way home I thought about her re­ac­tion and in­vented var­i­ous sce­nar­ios in my mind,” he ex­plains. “I didn’t know the woman so I had no way of know­ing what prompted her re­ac­tion. I also didn’t know any­thing about her back­ground story or why she was in the park that day. And ob­vi­ously, I will never know what hap­pened af­ter I left the park.”

He says it was then that he re­al­ized that would make a won­der­ful con­cept for a play — a play with no words where the au­di­ence has to in­ter­pret their own story of what hap­pens on the park bench.

Watch­ing the play, I was struck by the sim­plic­ity of the pro­duc­tion — 55 min­utes, three ac­tors, no words and a park bench. It doesn’t get much more stripped down than that. Tick­ets for in­di­vid­ual plays, Flex 5 passes or passes for the en­tire fes­ti­val are avail­able at www.litf.ca or di­rectly through the As­tor The­atre box of­fice at www.as­torthe­atre.ns.ca.

Tutty guar­an­tees the au­di­ence won’t be bored. I guar­an­tee it as well, and that’s the view from here.

Con­trib­uted

Oliver’s Bench will open the Liver­pool In­ter­na­tional The­atre Fes­ti­val stage on Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. The Winds of Change en­cour­ages ev­ery­one to come out and cheer on the home team, led by Al Steele, who plays Oliver.

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