Poignancy, memories and delight with Ignition Theatre’s Oral Fixations

It’s wonderful to see the polished, engaging and poignant styles of Ignition Theatre back on the local theatre scene. And I can’t think of a better means of starting off a new season then with their current production – and world premiere – of Oral Fixations, penned by Red Deer’s own very talented team of Blaine Newton and Leslie Greentree.

Performance runs through to Oct. 18th at the Scott Block with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

A powerful story of how food – or the memories of particular foods – touches on virtually every human experience and interaction, Oral Fixations is a mesmerizing collection of vignettes that cover an array of dramatic territory – from frothy, light and comical to deeply melancholic, sorrowful and nostalgic. Finely directed by Matt Grue, the production also features a superb cast who time and again show their skills via those various types of scenes.

As Newton has pointed out, food is often a smokescreen for what is really important.

“The idea of having a play where food is really the entry way into everything else materialized. It’s not about food – it’s about revenge, it’s about remembrance, it’s about sorrow.”

Well put. The play – which features Paul Boultbee, Killeen Delorme, Ryan Mattila, Erin Odell and Lisa Spencer-Cook – explores those notions in striking detail with memorable and often touching results. The actors each take on a number of roles – everything from a scheming wife deliberately serving her husband increasing amounts of fattening and unhealthy food to finish him off (Delorme) to a couple quibbling over what kinds of edible delights might spice up their sex life (Mattila and Odell).

The most powerful moments are the most sad or troubling – Odell is amazing as the defiant teen on the brink of high school graduation who is also slowly sinking into anorexia.

She thinks she is on the cusp of tremendous liberation, but food – or the concentrated efforts to avoid it – is tragically taking over. Mattila is also tremendous describing the impact of a kindly neighbourhood lady who provided the local kids and himself with cookies and a level of genuine care and respect that he didn’t get elsewhere. The scene is a stark, vivid reminder of how we can unexpectedly leave a profound mark on another person’s life without even knowing it – even through the simple act of sharing a gift.

Boultbee shows his terrific range yet again. We see him as a lonely, cranky man longing for days gone by and missing his spouse so badly – memories of the foods they enjoyed are woven into these image-laden memories.

In a funny clip, another character he portrays has been utterly seduced by the wonders of the Food Network much to his beleaguered wife’s chagrin.

I’ve rarely sat through such a cleverly-written and insightful piece of theatre. Audience members were constantly chuckling as we could all relate to part of the story. It’s thoroughly accessible. We all connect food with distinct memories, for example.

And then there are the sticky, awkward times of course – a doting mother (Delorme) edging her way between her son and daughter-in-law (Mattila and Spencer-Cook) by bringing over her time-honoured home cooking which she knows her boy just loves; two friends (Spencer-Cook and Delorme) who are at odds over one of the girl’s new boyfriend who has an unbelievable pickiness when it comes to eating. What do you serve someone like this? It’s tough to be hospitable to someone who would turn up their nose at pretty much everything you served.

Spencer-Cook is also excellent as the lonely woman whose husband is away working. She turns to food as her comfort more and more, hoping for brighter days but there is the sting of hopelessness to her story.

Rounding out the creative team are Stephanie Ridge and Marni Rath (stage management), Patrick Beagan (set/lighting design), Dustin Clark (sound design) and Peggy Church (movement and choreography) – all generously enhancing every aspect of the production.

Grue of course has guided everything along with his razor-sharp attention to the smallest and most intricate of details – he has such a way with actors; everyone is bringing their best to every moment, and it’s clear his inspiration and enthusiasm for the project has fueled that commitment.

Of course, Newton and Greentree – both exceptional artists and writers – have given us a real gift with this play. There is such a stirring mix of emotion, and they don’t shy away from exploring virtually every bit of it, from elation to sadness. We really feel for the characters who are missing a loved one, as Boultbee’s character, for example, describes the death of his mother and a clear memory that connects with food. And we laugh as the troupe played a group of children – chatting about foods with a refreshing honesty as only children can.

It’s all touching, inspiring and wonderful stuff from start to finish.

Tickets are $27 for adults and $23 for students and seniors and are available at Sunworks or online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.


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