A tortured artist, family feud, secret love affair, and a healthy dose of humour: Untitled #33, an aNONym Theatre workshop performance at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre for St. Catharines’ In the Soil Arts Festival, has all the elements of a dynamic piece of theatre – what is left for playwright and director James Millhaven to do is put them all together.

The short play provides a snapshot into the life of a reclusive, fallen-from-grace painter and the sister forced to take care of him.  Feeling the sting of both a public rejection of his work and a betrayal by his friend and collaborator Layton (Edwin Conroy Jr.), Thomas (Graham Shaw) shuts down. This keeps Thomas from finishing his current painting – or even finishing his breakfast.  His sister, Emma (Heather Lowe), has aspirations of her own that are often put on hold as she attempts to look after her troubled brother.  The reappearance of Layton, Thomas’ selfish and destructive colleague and, unbeknownst to Thomas, Emma’s ex-lover, provokes the siblings to stop stalling the progress of their lives and start moving forward again.

As a workshop performance, there are areas for improvement within the script.  The characters, though loud and angry, lack compelling actions to keep them onstage.  Emma in particular is inconsistent in her relationship with both males; she is willing to accept Layton’s physical advances even though she vehemently rejects him verbally. The heavy-handed and overused swearing means that cursing does not serve to emphasize choice moments throughout the play.  At its current stage the text is exposition-heavy and the most exciting component of the play, Layton’s edgy and disturbing art exhibitions, are never actually seen. Showing this in a future production could allow for compelling visual imagery.

Another component to develop in future productions is Thomas’ mental illness. Thomas is struggling with emotional trauma and feelings of incompetence, and retreating within oneself to the point of dysfunction is indicative of a serious condition. This was not given enough attention by the playwright as characters frequently comment on Thomas’ uselessness without offering any insights into Thomas’ mental illness.

As we see in the character of Thomas, the creation process can be a long and trying. DARTCritics encourages Millhaven and his collaborators to take the potential of Untitled #33 forward to make that process a rewarding one.

Untitled #33 is playing Sunday, April 26 at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre at 3pm.  Admission is available at the door or with a festival pass.

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