2014 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Stencilboy and Other Portraits (Paradigm Productions)

A provocative story of addictions masked by art in Stencilboy playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

The start of a new year of theatre gets a proper kick off with the Next Stage Theatre Festival. This year’s selection certainly looks promising and if Paradigm Productions‘ Stencilboy and Other Portraits is any indication, I’m sure the festival won’t disappoint.

Stencilboy takes a gritty look at the world of visual art and the past, present, ideals and dark secrets hidden, reflected, and highlighted in the brush strokes on the canvas.

Lily (Sochi Fried) leaves home to discover the big city. There she meets two painters — the traditionalist Artist (Richard Clarkin) who hasn’t lifted paintbrush to canvas since abandoned by his ex-girlfriend and now favors the liquor bottle rather than the brush; and Stencilboy (Brandon Coffey) the graffiti artist by night, city worker by day who spends his day job painting over his short-lived creations. Lily’s involvement in both these artists’ lives manages to expose the dark elements that both have worked hard to mask in their work. In turn, Lily is faced with the past she can no longer run from.

The first thing I noticed about this production is that the staging and use of lighting and sound, especially the sound, really stood out. A tip of the hat to stage manager Kai-Yueh Chen and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne for an exceptional job. I loved Payne’s incorporation of well-placed mood music, it really helped capture the moment.

As for the actors themselves, spot on. Although admittedly, I began by mentally adding in “like one of your French girls” when Lily would ask — no, actually, annoyingly pester — the Artist to paint her, but soon enough my inner commentary shut itself up and I was free to enjoy the show in all the dark and unpleasant places it would take me. Art as a mask to hide or drown addictions, violence, and vices? It’s a concept I’m personally familiar with and with that, this performance came with a few additional triggers that left me feeling rather bare.

I thoroughly enjoyed Clarkin’s performance as the Artist and continuously felt drawn to find out more about his demons. His rage that he attempts to keep in check despite being horribly provoked by Lily’s incessant prodding, really struck a chord with me.

At first glance, I found Fried’s performance as Lily rather annoying until I asked myself why I was responding that way. It dawned on me that it’s because Lily is relentless in her pursuit to understand those around her in order to shift focus away from herself. It reminds me of someone, me, and probably the reason why her performance clung to me in ways that made me uncomfortable.

It’s highly impressive how raw and exposed Stencilboy was able to make me feel and judging by the murmurs from the audience as they made their exit, I wasn’t the only one to leave feeling this way. It’s interesting that with a show about art, each canvas on set is a bare and empty frame. Take from that what you will.


Photo of playwright Susanna Fournier by Tanja Tiziana.