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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: I am I

by Elizabeth Johnston

Don’t be afraid of the press line, “I AM I is an exploration into the duality of the modern man.” Mike Czuba’s play appearing now at the Wildside Theatre Festival is not nearly as cerebral as you might think. At the heart of it, I AM I is about a guy trying to get a girl. One side of him wants to jump her bones and the other wants to take it slow, to get to know her first. 

A Woody Allenesque comedy, the actors deliver their well-written lines with passion and believability. Man 1, the sensitive one played by Canadian Idol contestant George Bekiaris is a perfect foil for lusty Man 2, played by Tristan D. Lalla, a recipient of numerous awards for acting excellence. While Man 1 and Man 2 wrestle over their object of desire, Tamara Brown’s character, Sonya, struggles to make sense of the Jekyll and Hide personality of a guy she’s sort of interested in. Having just come out of a “difficult relationship,” she’s not sure whether she just wants an ear or a grope in the dark. Her indecision makes it that much harder for Man 1 and Man 2 to come together, and Tai Timbers’ live electric guitar “sound track” just underscores their existential angst.

Writer Czuba has his characters allude to Shakespeare and experiment with the fourth wall to include the audience in the drama. This seems to elevate I AM I beyond the baser concerns of life and demonstrate the universality of the play’s themes. Yet, for all its cleverness, the underlying assumption in the play appears to be that women have it more together than men. Sonya accepts her carnal desires, which speaks volumes for her sexual emancipation. The men, on the other hand, seem to have a long way to go, baby.
I am I is at Wildside.


  1. Mark Czuba’s “I AM I” (The WILDSIDE FESTIVAL) is a well- calculated mixture of various ingredients. In this sense I would say some alchemy is happening on stage and we are witness to it. What exactly is being thrown in the pot I can’t say. Nevertheless, my attention remained on the action and on everyone all the time.

    For openers, we observe the young men frenetically trying to build something resembling a house and it is not until later that I realize that the structure is a representation of something more significant than a house.

    The three actors (Tristan D. Lalla, George Bekiaris, Tamara Brown) and the beautiful young man on the platform above us all, holding a pure white guitar – Tai Timbers light up the stage in this rather well put together piece of work.

    The playwright cleverly uses a cliché situation of bad boy who wants to fuck girl vs
    good boy who wants to love girl and of course in this little scenario we need a girl. We have one efficiently played by Ms. Brown. When dealing with platitudes we go into the domain of extremes and perhaps of the ridiculous. That being said, one must surrender to the extreme in order to fully grasp what’s happening on stage.

    It is clear that, it is not by accident that our playwright did not provide names for his characters. They are EVERYMAN and EVERYWOMAN! Tristan D. Lalla’s explosive character often grabs his crotch to denote his high sexual desires and his outlook on life: life is about sex, passion, surrender, submitting oneself to art. In contrast, George Bekiaris’ character remains cool (albeit a bit too cool…reminding me of character’s in plays whose inner life is seething with pain and is about to explode) and seeks to love purely and forever, to have security and a job, a home, a wife. The woman oscillates between the two ways of being as we all do. She is as symbolic of a character as the men.

    “I AM I” raises many questions and topics, including, existential ones. But it is not up to the playwright to respond to their questions but rather the responsibility remains with the spectator to think beyond the stage…and after the action is over.

    Admittedly, it is difficult to successfully tackle so many subjects not only in the hour fifteen running time of the play…. but anytime period! However, Mr. Czuba’s script which has been with him since 2009 (it originally played with another cast and has since undergone several changes) with the support of director, Larry Lamont and his actors does a fine job on creating a highly theatrical and refreshing experience for his audience. I say go for it!

    Anna Papadakos

  2. From the second I walked into the theatre to find two very serious actors acting their asses off while putting together some kind of -- bathroom? Kitchen? Post-housing structure? -- I hated this show. Just build the damn house already!

    It just got worse from there. What was purported to be a metatheatrical exploration of some kind of rock and roll theatre was nothing more than guitar wanking. I never got a real, clear sense of the competing dual natures of the characters - if Tristan was the earthy, physical dude, why was he also the poet? If George was the sensitive romantic, why was his every other line "fuck you"? And let's not get into the poltics of why the female character is magically not played by two people.

    If this were really a show about breaking down and exploring the theatrical elements of a performance, why didn't the characters ever talk to the musician? What, no requests? Turning on the house lights and dragging the audience into a forced moment of scripted participation isn't good enough.

    So let's talk about rock and roll theatre. Just having a guitarist on stage doesn't cut it. Sure, dude looked the part and he, you know, played some guitar occasionally, but he was never in danger of rocking out. A rock and roll theatre should be dangerous, fast, reckless, loose, exciting, and in the immortal words of Iggy, RAW POWER. In rock and roll theatre, there is no question about why we are here. We are here to blow your mind.

    Getting that intention and musicality into the bodies and words of actors is no easy feat -- our theatre is far too polite and tame. But gimme something! I am in the theatre to have my mind blown.

  3. If the above comment was left by the same Patrick Goddard who works at mainline/the fringe, and who is god-awfull in every show he appears in -including his own show the midlife crisis of dionysus (which was a pretty great show overall though),then i take his opinion and laugh at it.
    i saw the show (i am i) tonight, and it was fucking fantastic.i love indie theatre in montreal and i see as many shows as i can. george, tai, tamara and tristan Rocked that stage. no doubt man. it was a very in your face experience and everyone was talking about how amazing it was afterward. overall i find the "wildside" to be a bit tame, but, babysteps i suppose. glad to see cool shows like this are getting big audiences on a centaur mainstage. rock on, bitches

  4. Of course, it's always slightly braver - when insulting member of the community - to include one's name.

  5. To the Theatre Goer: Don't do this. Ever. It's not helpful. Don't trash somebody you don't agree with here. It creates animosity and makes everyone look bad. This is much more serious than you think.

    To Patrick: you ought to know better than to use the phrase, "I hate," in a review/critique/public opinion. It undermines everything else you have to say and opens the way for this kind of ranting.

    To the Charlebois Post: this is a great blog and a service to the community. Don't let it devolve into flame-wars. I don't know if it's possible, but if there's a way to eliminate anonymity here, I'll support that.


  6. We are still in the testing phase for certain elements on the site (ie: comments). We do want honest, even harsh comments - it makes the convo lively - and understand that the community is rather small and people may occasionally need to remain anonymous to comment openly. But you are absoluely right about flame-wars and one of the guiding principles here is that no one should be settling accounts. If Estelle or I see that the situation is devolving, we can, with a click of a mouse, change the comments section into a moderated feature. But for now, we feel the community will call out anyone who steps over the line and, if it gets ugly, comments can simply be removed without going to moderation mode.

  7. I have not often been impressed by theatrics - whether on stage or off.

    I AM I was one of the most uncomfortable pieces of theatre I have ever experienced in a theatre. (let us not get into the theatrical qualities of my own life)

    Without being a cliché or reinforcing the hollywood formula for a dramatic rom-com happy ending, I AM I is pretty accurate in portraying what most people only confess to the mirror. Verfremdungseffekt! the d-bag nature of people (male and female) in relationships! I love it.

    The writing, the acting and the venue were in tandem and needed nothing more. 75 minutes flew by and we left to mull it over long after we'd exited the theatre. I think that says it all.


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