Arts & CultureCampus & City

Play Review: 2024 New Works Festival (Night A)

The first night of the New Works Festival featured the plays 'Lola' and 'Tomato Girl'.

Every year, the University of Alberta’s department of drama runs the New Works Festival. This student-run event is a great learning opportunity for student theatre playwrights. They get to develop their plays with others across the department, and showcase their work to the community.


The first play I had the pleasure of seeing was Lola, written by Liam Witte and directed by Nicole Maloney and Kalen Sabasch. Lola follows two unnamed characters, played by Cam Kennedy and Sophia Illigan, as they fall in love and attempt to navigate their relationship. Witte paints a realistic picture of the challenges that can arise when people from different social backgrounds try to date. 

The twist? This couple lives in the future. Here, trains move faster than the speed of light, and a person can live on the edge of the universe. The man works long hours on the trains. He works hard hoping that someday he will get his big promotion, so that the couple can move away and lead a better life together. The woman, on the other hand, is an astronomer. She spends long days alone in her lab, studying the only star that exists on the edge of the universe. She has no interest in leaving, and is engrossed by her work. What starts as a sweet love story quickly becomes melancholic and frustrating, as we watch them slowly begin to drift from one another, chasing their differing dreams. 

Witte’s poignant script has the audience desperately wishing the two will sort out their differences. Alas, we eventually realise they will not. Despite the strong dialogue, the show reached a point where it simply went on too long. How long can you watch two people have the same argument over and over, while neither one concedes? Near the end, it felt as if they were simply repeating their thoughts for repetition’s sake. 

Additionally, there were times where the woman’s motivations were questionable. Why did she care for her work so deeply? Why does she care so much for this star? Despite these unanswered questions, the script is the real draw of this show. 

However, the writing was not the only good part. Both actors gave very strong performances, and the simple yet impactful directing was beautifully done. The uncomplicated blocking and occasional choreography highlighted the space and the character’s dynamic. A lamp, used as a vessel for the star, sat in the middle of the stage, tying the space together. The direction brought the story together seamlessly, allowing for simple and coherent storytelling. All of these elements combined made for a gorgeous show that brought me to tears.

Tomato Girl

Following intermission, I was treated to a bit of emotional whiplash. After wiping away my tears, I was introduced to the outlandish, erotic world of Tomato Girl (pronounced to-mah-toe). Written by Jacquelin Walters and directed by Madison Hucal and Michaela Demeo, Tomato Girl follows the misadventures of a, you guessed it, tomato girl (Katelyn Cabalo). She wishes to climb the social ladder away from her life of selling vegetables and hanging with back-alley punks. 

She takes the elegant and popular Madame Shooshi (Braden Welsh) hostage and decides to take her place. What follows is one of the most absurd — not to mention sexual — pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Not plot-heavy, but extremely gag-heavy, Tomato Girl digs deep into the mostly sensual, but sometimes social, desires of the characters.

Where Lola was strong in script, Tomato Girl’s stand-out was the cast. Chock-full of comedic talent and hilarious facial expressions, there was not a single weak-link among the cast. They took a quite funny and raunchy script, and made it ten-times funnier and twenty-times raunchier. From absurd sexual encounters — such as a character fingering a doorknob — to pretending to be a cat and purring quite excessively in the laps of others, the entire cast had the audience hooting and hollering the entire show. 

Their chemistry and comfort with each other was apparent. Their clear confidence prevented the audience from feeling uncomfortable, even when they were masturbating to magazines or toothbrushes. Whether it was performing in drag or running amuck as they changed the set, the cast always managed to delight the audience and each other. 

Their performances managed to distract from a few bizarre script and artistic choices. One choice pertains to the Bad Kids. The Bad Kids are a group of mischievous gremlins who frequent the same alley as the tomato girl. They mainly function as a Greek chorus/running crew. The actors portraying them hold a various assortment of objects, such as cans and shoes, and use them as puppets to embody their character. 

While a novel idea for a festival that has neither the budget nor the time to make real puppets, the choice did not read very well with the audience. Many were simply left confused about why they were waving trash around as they spoke. The directors would have been better off to simply ditch the puppets and instruct the actors to amp up the animation.

Despite a few flaws, the show was overall a delight, stocked-full of comedic talent and delightfully dirty jokes that are not for all ages.

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