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Island Fringe Festival:
Feelings

Review by Sean McQuaid 

Your subdued scribbler tends to be none too outwardly emotional, so perhaps it's no surprise I had trouble relating to a play called Feelings. Deemed a "semi-autobiographical" show by authors/actors Emile Beauchemin and Bill Black, it's a dramatic comedy in which these two young Quebec thespians analyze their friendship, their theatrical collaborations and each other. 

Ingesting a mind-altering substance at a club, the two best friends (playing themselves) share an extended hallucinatory vision quest guided by the authoritative and amusingly detached disembodied voice of Michael Maynard, sounding like an automated museum guide. Together they look back on the good, the bad and the ugly of their years together. 

The result is a meandering, muddled blur of monologues and dialogues that only intermittently entertain or illuminate. It's not helped by the fact that these actors have a tendency to rush, subverting both players' timing and sometimes Black's articulation as well. We're meant to be inside their heads here, so clarity of both words and emotional beats matters more than usual. 

On the other hand, sometimes what's being said is too clear. "I'm really envious of your carefree attitude," says Beauchemin to Black matter-of-factly, one of multiple moments where the characters are rather flatly telling us how they feel or what they think rather than showing us, inelegantly blurring the line between drama and group therapy. 

More subtly artful and more satisfying are moments in which the revelations skew metaphorical. For instance, meditations on the plays they have directed and performed — classics like Caligua, Othello and Twelfth Night — lead to ruminations on the nature of striving for perhaps-unattainable dreams, with various characters literally or figuratively aiming for the moon. 

There are genuinely moving, thought-provoking moments in this play spinning out from that lunar theme, including the show's rather poetic conclusion and a nifty monologue or two along the way. The less the show is spoon-feeding us its protagonists' feelings, the better it works. 

But there is a lot of spoon-feeding, and a lot of loud, angry noise either from the players themselves or from their music and effects, all of which helps the play feel like a longer, drearier slog than it actually is. The periods of over-the-top cacophony tend to be off-putting while the quieter bits are where these performers shine, whether it's in the less overwrought monologues or an adroitly executed pantomime sequence. 

"Welcome to our ego trip," says the duo early in the show; and while you have to give them props both for self awareness and for cheekily lampshading that aspect of their project, I'm not sure the show ever fully escapes the shadow of this mission statement. 

Feelings is equal parts self-revelatory and self-absorbed; and while it's easy to admire the bravery and artistic idealism of the exercise, it's hard to deny how tiresome and self-indulgent the show often feels despite the readily apparent talent, experience and intelligence behind it.

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