by Caleigh Crow
“I think I wrote the play in a coffee and ramen state in University,” says Martin Law, “I was probably just trying to escape being a University student but also imagining the bizarreness of what consciousness would be like in any other object. So, I put fully human emotions into chairs and tables,” he pauses and thinks, “and a rug.”
And so, The Thrill of the Chaise, Martin’s latest St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival show, was born. I’m comfortable here using the word ‘born’ because I am in Martin’s company; a playwright who has absolutely no qualms about endowing inanimate objects with human qualities. The show has two narratives, one involving human Russian spies, acted by human actors on stage, the other the furniture in the room, voiced by human actors off-stage. Martin, playwright and director, describes, “The thrill of the chaise is an extremely exciting spy thriller which has a lot to do with our political, ethical, philosophical, sociological, personal milieu and our times.” He pauses for effect, “It’s also about what happens to furniture and their struggles.”
It’s a zany premise. Fitting, then, that the company who won last year’s Spirit of the Fringe award at the Frankie’s, Chocolate Moose, would come out with something so odd, offbeat, and outlandish at this year’s St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, a very suitable venue for the piece, according to Martin. “I think it’s got just the right spirit of weird and funny, and not taking itself too seriously that I think is really crucial for fringe,” he explains. “I think it’s fun to take something that can pose as a serious piece of art and then rip the center out of that. There’s a funny subplot that’s happening beneath the surface.” Martin believes audience members will still be able to connect with the characters, human or furnishing. “I suppose that people will have a laugh at the art, the pretension, the weirdness, and if they see themselves in any of the furniture they’ll maybe have a laugh at themselves,” he says. “A lot of it is furniture having sad romantic relationships and sometimes I feel that if you can just embody something that’s far enough outside of our own bodies that it can be quite funny to get the bird’s eye view on yourself, or a human’s eye view as the chair would probably say.”
As a director, Martin had to take a different approach. The challenge for acting in The Thrill of the Chaise is that there are two contrasting performances required to serve the two contrasting stories. “I’m directing them in two sections,” he explains, “one is the human play, which is mostly movement, big overblown physical comedy, props, movement, and this weird hyper-choreographed bit. Then there’s the furniture, and pretty much all the emphasis is in the delivery of the lines, the sound.” As Martin is talking, he stops himself to take out a pen. “I have to write this down so I don’t forget,” he says. “I just had this idea to run rehearsal blindfolded. I just find I’m still watching their faces as we rehearse, just as habit. But then you realise that you’re taking the acting off their facial clues and sometimes you need it to be totally implicit in their voices.”
This is Martin’s third St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, and he has nothing but praise for the festival, and the freedom, variety, and wild spirit it embodies. “Its good to be in a field of things where there’s old FRINGE veterans, there’s people who are total pros and some who are complete beginners and yet you can go and see anything and you can be very surprised.” It’s this ability to surprise that keeps artists like Martin pushing the envelope. “I think at FRINGE you’re in a position where you can go hard for something, it’s a way lower risk than putting in huge investments of time and money and social anxiety by producing something decently independently.” Martin brightens up, nods, and says. “On the other hand, the payoff can be huge. There’s a huge buzz about it. Something bizarre can really succeed.”
The Thrill of the Chaise runs from June 8th – 18th at MainLine Theatre. For more information and for tickets please click here.
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