Bare Essentials 5: Far from Home Online
It’s the fifth and final iteration of Encompass Production’s online theatrical showcase, Bare Essentials, and they’ve pretty much perfected the format: compered by the delightful Liam Fleming, the night of new writing is fresh, fast-moving, and a joyous way to spend a Wednesday. Evenings like these are a reminder of the resilience and resourcefulness of smaller scale artists, and shouldn’t be missed.
The first of the six productions is Suburban Buffalo Sighting by Elisabeth Giffin Speckman: after a driver accidentally hits her neighbour’s mailbox, she tries to convince the irate homeowner it was because she saw a buffalo… in the middle of suburbia. A fast-paced romp (the skit can’t be longer than five minutes), Speckman does well to create a comical but realistic response to such an absurdist concept. As salacious as it is silly, the piece is perfectly suited for a night like this, and opens the evening well.
Next is The Front Line by Linda Robinson, a timely and satirical look at the interview process of becoming a prison guard. Given how incendiary the topic could be, Robinson is deft in balancing the tone, challenging the potentially flawed institutions without ever implying she’s reflecting the entire situation. Deconstructionist and insightful, the piece is almost like an ironic interrogation of the policing system itself, suggesting that it could do with a “fresh start”.
The best performance of the night comes from Holli Dillon in the third piece, Nuns by Vicky Richards. Dillon delivers this intimate monologue with a real flair, discussing how she wanted to be a nun was she younger because she viewed them as “almost mystical.” What begins as one woman’s lament quickly becomes a manifesto on what it means to be ordinary: how something as seemingly boring as being a nun can become wild and imaginative if looked at in the right way. Wonderfully shrewd, Nuns celebrates the domestic whilst asking us if we could all do a bit better.
Taking a much more sombre tone, the fourth piece is Brothers in Arms by Warren Paul Glover, a story of two brothers at WW1’s Battle of Passchendaele discussing their lives back at home before they go “over the top”. The piece is notably darker than the other offerings of the night, questioning what it means to be loyal (to your brother, to your lover, to your country), and whether the price of this loyalty is one worth paying. The performances of the two brothers capture the heavy subject matter well, and the whole becomes a nice point of tonal dissonance, highlighting the comedy of the other pieces.
The stand-out (and most absurdist) piece of the night was Ken Preuss’ A Dave with Destiny. Two strangers, Dave and Destiny, log onto a random video chat. She thinks it’s a blind web-date, he thinks it’s an “online advice webinar about thinly sliced lunchmeats”; strangely, then, they seem to recognise each other. As the pair try to work out their connection, Preuss weaves in layer upon layer of witty word play, combining existentialist themes with genuinely funny jokes. A laugh a minute, A Dave with Destiny is one piece that very much deserves to be watched again and again.
The final piece of the night, Little Prizes by Liam Fleming (the compere himself), perhaps perfectly encapsulates the entire evening: an intimate yet comical story about a person trying to find a cereal box prize as a kid, and what the memory means to them now. As the story develops, the eponymous “little prizes” grows more ambiguous and metaphoric; it’s just a happy time you remember. Well, with all the wonderful theatre it supplies, Bare Essentials: Far From Home is certainly a “little prize”.
Watch the trailer for Bare Essentials 5: Far from Home here.