One-man show Oh, Ryan offers a series of abstract, loosely connected monologues vaguely referencing the topics of belief, relationships and astronomy. Avoiding any concise plot or character development, playwright and performer Shawn Desouza-Coelho and Lost at Sea Theatre bring us this strange opportunity to just “be.”
This idea is emphasized by the explicit reference in the program to “The Audience” as a performer, playing the characters “Themselves.” And while Desouza-Coelho is credited as “Ryan” he does not play a specific character I learned much about or who discusses anything in any depth.
We do learn that many varied situations occur inside of every star, including a girl and a boy who jump up and down so fast that they make the star float. I think these meanderings are meant to inspire wonder in me, but I find his passive, neutral characterization positively agitating.
“Ryan” finds no development, and there is not enough context to make me care for him. But he does use a cane. I am not sure what this added to the show or the performance; even if it did have something implied to do with the stories he tells, it seems pretty arbitrary.
These stories follow Ryan’s bland present-tense narration of a love affair with a “Tara” (an obvious name for the Earth). We get to watch him make out with her for the first time, rolling on the floor. Interspersed throughout are abrupt scenes in which he is battered by an unseen figure. At one point, at the end of one of these episodes, he looks up smiling: “A wild flower sprouts in front of me.”
Without a cause or context for these unrelated extreme reactions, I was left confused and alienated. There are also constant references to his inability to dance yet he does attempt it a lot, at one point with an audience member, one of many who enter the stage area whenever he says “Join me.”
In another case of “gentle audience participation,” he says to the volunteer “Welcome to us,” asking “How does it feel?” This girl played along, answering “tickley.”
To give you a more objective sense of the writing, a few highlights: (editors note:
these are from notes written by the reviewer during the performance. This leaves room for some error from the hastily scribbled words in the dark by the reviewer, and on the recitation from the script by the actor. As such they may not represent exactly what is written in the script the quotes below are now directly from the script)
“How can you blame a dancer for dancing?”
“Inside every star there is a you and a me, but when you take away the you and the me, all that’s left is us.”
“You probably don’t think you’re doing much. But that’s probably because you don’t think believing is much. Believing is everything. Everything. […] Where would God go if nobody believed?”
You can also watch this “teaser” which actually gives away the grand-finale “stage magic” trick, to give you a pretty thorough sense of what to expect. Just imagine that teaser exactly, only spread out over an hour.
The play as it stands, without depending on definition of plot or character, hinges on Desouza-Coelho’s ability to make a connection with the audience. I did not feel that connection. I found his performance vacant, which made his acting seem underdeveloped. However it might have been deliberate.
Ultimately it felt like the show could very well have been improvised. At best I would say that this is probably the theatrical equivalent of abstract expressionism in painting, deliberately avoiding form or context, and I am sure there are some people out there who would enjoy it, I am just not one of them.
– Oh, Ryan is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Extra Space, 125 Bathurst St, 16 Ryerson Ave. on:
Tuesday August 9th, 4:30 pm
Thursday August 11th, 9:30 pm
Friday August 12th, 7:00 pm
Saturday August 13th, 11:30 am
Sunday August 14th, 4:30 pm
– All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.artsboxoffice.ca, by phone at 416.504.7529, in person at at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., One block North East of Bathurst & Queen W. M-F 12PM-7PM, Weekends 10AM-8PM) (Advance tickets are $15 +HST and $1 service fee)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Image: Poster Design by Rachelle Scarfo