Zona Pellucida & the Needle Exchange (A Double Bill) – Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Review by Mark Augustine

Stephen Lawson, Aaron Pollard

Q: What do you get when you cross the Twilight Zone with Italian Opera and throw in Norma Desmond as the lead character?

A: I’ll be damned if I know. But it’s pretty much what you can expect from Zona Pellucida – a 45 min. one person show from Montreal which played at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

My friend Earnest and I didn’t really know what to expect from “Zona Pellucida”. The posters gave little indication of plot and the programme offered little more. It is one of those kinds of shows where you sit there for the first ten minutes thinking “Ok, I just need to concentrate harder and maybe I’ll get the purpose here!” By the time we hit 25 minutes I just decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Earnest is much more forgiving than I am – he loved it from start to finish. He particularly liked all the “neat special effects” and the absurdity of an actor in drag who talks to stuffed animals and lip syncs to clips from old movies.

I have to admit, it has been ages since I have seen such a technically creative show. I am definitely not a fan of theatre that makes itself purposely obscure, but I was really taken with the atmosphere and mood that was created on the technical side – old music from the 1920’s, flickering spotlights that hearken back to early motion pictures and projections that are at once eerie and extremely funny.

Yet, when the lights came up, Earnest and I looked at each other and shrugged. “That was interesting.” We still didn’t know what it was about. I wondered if it was enough to have an emotional reaction to the show, instead of trying to make sense of it.

Moments like that, I wonder if I am just too low-brow for performing arts. In the end, we told ourselves that it was ‘art’ and just hoped no one would ask for our opinion. As fate would have it, a woman came up to me afterwards and did just that.

“What was that? What did I just see?” Apparently, I am not as low-brow as I thought.

In the end I have to admit that I really loved the show. It was new, different and engaged me on a level that most shows do not.

In the break between “Zona” in the main space and “the Needle Exchange” in the smaller cabaret/bar space, Earnest and I hung out, had a drink and chatted with other audience members looking for some background. We found out that both shows are actually Montreal imports by artists with backgrounds in drag, cabaret, stand-up and performance art. Earnest looked at me with a smile, afterwards. “That’s why I didn’t get it; it’s French!” (Vive le Quebec, libre!)

Keith Cole, John Caffery

The Needle Exchange was a much more self-explanatory piece. Passing itself off as a late night chat show with guest performers, the second show on the bill brought the audience in by welcoming cell phone rings, texting and even a gab on your blackberry if the spirit moved you. It felt nice to know that no one expected us to wear a straightjacket for art.

Again, all the performers were from Montreal and their acts ranged from slapstick/funny to gross/funny. My favourite piece was Dayna McLeod’s monologue about sexual frustration with a video of her pet Chihuahua humping a pillow in the background.

Earnest preferred the raunchy Drag King, Bob Blahblah, and his dating advice. Clocking in at only 30 minutes, Earnest and I were a bit irritated they couldn’t have let it run a bit longer. The Needle Exchange definitely left us clamouring for more so we decided to stay late and chat with performers and all the folks who stayed to hang out in the bar afterwards.

The lady who asked us all about “Zona Pellucida” walked out of “the Needle Exchange” with a big smile on her face. “I understood that one” she said. I had to smile with her. “So did we.”

Zona Pellucida was conceived and arranged by 2BOYS.TV

The Needle Exchange was hosted by Keith Cole with different guests every night.

These played from Jan. 9 – 24, 2009 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Check out the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre website for more cutting edge theatre.

First photo by Andrea Hausman of Stephen Lawson & Aaron Pollard in Zona Pellucida.

Second photo by David Hawe of Keith Cole and John Caffery in The Needle Exchange.