REVIEW: The Roommate @ Ottawa Fringe 2012

A man enters a no-strings attached relationship with his hot new roommate only to start developing feelings for her.

Alan Bee, Julia Valley, Lance and Angela tell you why you should see it?

Trouble with the video? Watch on YouTube instead.

I really wanted to avoid making this a review about the venue but since venue is a big part of the theatre experience, I need to give it a few words. I have a strong dislike for pub venues like this. This was at Avant Garde on Besserer where the noise from the AC unit was almost as loud as the performers, the stage was right next to the front entrance, allowing for the interruption of non-Fringe patrons walking through a space that already had poor sightlines, and the venue had an unannounced “policy” wherein you had to buy something to be able to sit at all. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.

Onto the show: Alex has a room for rent, he rents it to a foxy Argentinian named Mina (played by the foxy Julia Valley) and quickly enters a no-strings attached sexual relationship with her. Complication: Alex quickly develops feelings for Mina, and Mina has a sort of boyfriend in Lance. Yes, this isn’t exactly new material. There were two movies released just last year with the same subject matter. What makes the story “different” is the emotional connection to the playwright in that it’s a somewhat autobiographical retelling of a story that happened to Alan Bee, who wrote the script and also plays Alex. The play is meant to be a form a catharsis for Alan/Alex because Mina really did a number on him with her mind games.

Does the fact that it’s autobiographical or cathartic make it good? Meh. It was an okay story, and it had some fun wall-breaking moments. Example: Alex is delivering a monologue to the audience when Mina comes in and asks who he’s talking to. He replies that he’s working on a play. I also liked that the story didn’t have a happy “she now loves him, too” ending but did have a nice conclusion or moral to the story where Alex says that his experience with Mina - he was emotionally invested in her, but he wasn’t more than a piece of meat to her - made him rethink some of his past relationships where the reverse might have been true. It’s a nice sentiment and wins him points with me.

Something else I liked was the use of muppets in place of minor characters. Mina’s boyfriend is a muppet, as are two random women that Alex brings home to make Mina jealous. The characters don’t amount to much and we don’t need to see extra actors in the roles, so the muppets - all created by Julia Valley - are a great way to include those minor characters.

It wasn’t revolutionary but it was decent and a bit of fun, so three.

Kurt’s Followup:

The story is a pretty basic tale of a man who inadvertently falls for his roommate, and it isn’t really told in a dynamic or interesting way or anything to spice it up. Most of the scenes and information is conveyed by the narrator who addresses the audience. It comes across as lazy and uninspired, and it doesn’t help that the characters themselves are bland and flat. There is no variation of mood and it almost seems to have only one speed. When one of the characters actually raises their voice in anger it’s startling because you haven’t been expecting it. If the characters had been more dynamic and a little less annoying it might have helped, but the monologues feel like a crutch the show is leaning on. Most infuriatingly of the show is that it just drags on for too long. There were multiple moments where a very suitable and effective ending would naturally happen and then the show would just keep going past it. This happens two or three times! It’s almost as if the show is trying to fill time.

The most interesting aspect of the show was the use of puppets as secondary characters. It’s something that differentiates the show from some of the others at the festival, but it’s really only used to complement the action of what’s going one. But it suffers the same fate as most of the elements of this play: Not being as well utilized as it could have been. The Roommate only scores a two.

- by Kurt Shantz

Allan Mackey

About Allan Mackey

Allan Mackey is editor-in-chief of Production Ottawa, which, really, is too fancy a title. He also acts as show producer for Should You See It, making sure you get your answer in just about two minutes every time. He writes stuff and occasionally turns that stuff into movies. Keep being awesome!

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