The Bus Stop Theatre, Sep 22-26, 7:30pm & 9:30pm
Revisiting the earlier work of an established icon is often good in theory—a feeling of watching greatness’s dry run—but oftentimes underwhelming in practice. (Would anyone care about Bleach if Nevermind didn’t follow later?) Luckily for audience members of FOOTNOTE, a trio of one-act plays written by Halifax’s most decorated playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, you can sometimes get a front-row seat to the exception of the rule.
But a funny thing happens while watching a Moscovitch work: You sit, try to settle, but you never fully do. There’s an intentional discomfort the writing pricks you with, a pins-and-needles feeling delivered one jab of dialogue at a time. When watching Essay, the show’s first number, this feeling struck over and over in tune with the throbbing lights (a bit of light design that’s not only scene-setting, but emotionally resonant). A PhD student and his professor debate a junior student’s essay—and, by extension, if women have a place in history. “What about horse-story?” the professor (a show-stealing Ann-Marie Kerr, playing the old fogy who fuels your nightmares to hateable perfection) whinnies at the argument’s apex, a walking boomer mentality about gender inclusion.
At first, I think the whole thing is too much—like being dropped into a real-life manifestation of an ugly Twitter debate. But as the crowd around me laughs, winces and gasps, I realize it isn’t that the show is too theatrical: It’s that this is how women are *really* talked about before we enter the room. By the time the student in question—Pixie, who carries DVDs of Buffy in her school bag and butterfly clips in her space buns—arrives, I’m nearly sick, remembering the time a male PhD student in my first year women’s studies class told me I didn’t understand my own oppression.
The use of set and space at FOOTNOTES feels like someone finally making the most of the bare-bones, black box possibility of The Bus Stop. Once the lights go down on Essay—where we watched the drama unfold in an academic office, looking on through empty wall-mounted shelving, our chairs move to another part of the room. There, in a tiny bathroom, the character Elsa (Ella MacDonald) chain-smokes through a performance of USSR. Almost more of a monologue than a play, USSR needs someone dynamic to work. Luckily, MacDonald is just that, sliding from subtle to cinematic with a wrinkle of the brow. Hers is my favourite performance of the night, a world of feeling spoken in sentence fragments as Elsa tries to tamp down her trauma to tell us what happened to her earlier that night.
The final play of the night is Mexico City, a ‘60s-set comedy that feels the most distant from the serious, clenched-jaw dialogue Moscovitch would come to be known for. Zach Faye and Lesley Smith bring big youth-pastor-with-babe-wife energy to their roles—the only ones to make me laugh all night. Their chemistry warms and cools, but this feels true to the bickering in the script, which follows a white couple’s trip to, yup, Mexico City (and the cultural colonization these trips play a role in continuing). While this gringa hates to admit it, the play’s abrupt ending caught me off guard, hesitating to clap because I thought the actors might be coming back out. Maybe I was vibing too hard in the midcentury living room re-do of The Bus Stop’s front room for the play—or maybe a slowing of pace towards the end of the play would’ve added feelings of completion.
Across the three works, a sense of delight felt palpable just below the surface for each actor. Here is a contingency of the army of theatre-makers Moscovitch has influenced and inspired, getting to play the parts she has written in her earliest works. “Tonight I saw theatre IN PERSON. I forgot that theatre—live—is AMAZING and also MAGIC,” Moscovitch tweeted the day after she saw FOOTNOTES. It’s a show that’ll remind you the same things, too.