Motyer-Fancy Theatre presents student-directed double feature

Problem Child and Dry Land to tackle tough content and explore human connection

From Thursday, March 9, to Saturday, March 11, two plays will be presented back-to-back at Mt. A’s Motyer-Fancy Theatre (MFT): Problem Child, directed by Ashlyn Skater, and Dry Land, directed by Sarah Tardif. The only double-feature this season, both stories uncover the wealth of the human experience in their unflinching portrayals of struggle and strength. The plays touch on subjects such as addiction, poverty, and mental health (Problem Child), as well as female adolescence, abortion, and young vulnerability (Dry Land). Running at 90 minutes each, with an intermission in between, these stories promise a night to remember. 

Problem Child will be Ashlyn Skater’s directorial debut. This fourth-year Drama Studies major is MFT’s current General Technician and works primarily in “sound, lighting and construction, but [she] also [has] experience in stage managing and acting.” If you have attended an MFT production recently, chances are that some aspect of the production — the curtains, the lights hanging above, or the set built before you — bears her influence. But Skater is up to the challenge of directing: “My experience working with people in the theatre and kids allowed me to gain a solid basis that gave me the skills to begin this journey.” 

Written by George F. Walker, Problem Child follows RJ and Denise, a couple isolated in a motel while bearing the crushing weight of their pasts. RJ is fresh out of prison, Denise having compromised herself to get by in the meantime. As Skater puts it, the two feel “trapped and unsure about how to move their life forward. They have a child together but are battling Helen the social worker to regain custody of her. Phillie the motel worker helps them along the way. Addiction, horrendous living situations, custody battles, poverty, [and] isolation are overcome in their story while figuring out how to become untrapped in their own minds.” 

“Times are tough for everyone,” Skater shares, “and I feel that Problem Child offers an important message that reduces the stigma around addiction recovery and mental health. People need resources and deserve them without judgment.” She describes the show as an emotional roller coaster: “I hope [audiences] cry, laugh, feel everything. There is a lot of unexpected humor, but ultimately the show is very moving.”

Immediately following Problem Child is Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. Directed by third-year English and Drama major Sarah Tardif, this play also features a small cast spearheaded by two female protagonists, high-school swimmers Amy and Esther. Set largely in a pool locker room, the relationship between the two grows as they face subjects many of us would deem taboo. Teenage pregnancy is one central topic. To Tardif, however, “the show isn’t necessarily about teenage pregnancy or abortion — it really does focus on the intimacy and the microcosms that are found in female friendships.” She describes the play as emotionally intimate: “You get to share this space behind closed doors that we don’t get to see normally as an audience. […] We’re peeking in, and Ruby Rae Spiegel lifts the curtain on these kinds of issues and this kind of relationship between young women.” 

Dry Land is important, Tardif shares, “in order to garner conversation. […] This is a very real play, about a very real situation and very real characters. It’s relevant right now in the face of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the States, and for a lot of young women in Canada we know that that is closer than it seems.” The play is a brand of ‘shocking theatre,’ Tardif acknowledges, one she wanted to bring into a university space “because it garners the opportunity for conversation and questions. […]  I want people to walk away feeling changed from the experience that they had in the theatre.”

“It shows us this kind of confidential, liminal space between female adolescence and adulthood. […] In the script there is a note from the playwright that says, ‘harshness is as true to this play as sweetness,’ […] it is harshness and sweetness. Grotesqueness and vulnerability are treated as having a reciprocal bond: both must be present in order to have the other.”

Tickets for the shows are $5 for students/seniors, and $10 for general admission (cash only). Thursday is pay-what-you-can night! The double-feature begins at 7:30, March 9–11, and tickets can be reserved by emailing [email protected] or at the door. Both productions contain sensitive subject matter — but the stories and their dedicated cast and crew come together to create such impactful stories.

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