Two short months ago you may have been stuck with a heavy backpack at the airport, eight weeks ago, you may have arrived at the doorstep of your residence, and only yesterday you may have been contemplating the reality of life after graduation. The transience of life is striking, especially for university students. This is one of the reasons Kara Fletcher chose to direct Carol Shield’s Departures and Arrivals, currently playing at the TNC Theatre.
Another reason is that Shield’s play is quite hilarious. Divided into approximately 20 vignettes, the play casts its audience, alongside the actors, as travellers waiting in the departures and arrivals lounge of an airport. The explosive opening scene features the hustle and bustle we’ve come to expect at an airport. The six talented actors portray over 20 characters in ten minutes – costume changes and all.
There are business people, vacationers, students, young, old, sweet hellos, bitter goodbyes, tears, geeks, MPs, and the staple pilot and stewardess – I mean – flight attendant. The director, cast, and crew immediately display their agility when it comes to pacing, comedic timing, and colourful character work. Moments such as these, however, are juxtaposed later in the play with intimate scenes of emotional depth, philosophical pondering, and pure revelry in rare but powerful silence.
The emotionally-charged atmosphere of airports can sometimes lead to a heightened reality; in capturing this, the play has moments resembling Theatre of the Absurd. Characters can become caricatures, the humour almost slapstick, and stereotypes can be subverted in the cyclical realm of departures and arrivals. Amanda McQueen is hilarious as a self-conscious yet judgmental people-watcher, and brings a quirky animation to many of her characters. Like each of the other actors, she transforms into 12 different characters throughout the duration of the play. Steve Hersch is also very skilled at playing with the line between character and caricature, especially as the amorous pilot and overworked son.
Upon presenting its more serious themes and scenes, however, the play enters a new realm of intensity and draws the audience in even closer. Ryan Lauzon and Alixandra Stoicheff strike a particularly poignant tone playing a father and soon-to-be-married daughter. A major challenge the play presents to its actors is the great age range they subsume. Cayleigh Eckhardt does a remarkable job of playing the 60-something grandmother, Mrs. Kitchell. She rises to the challenge by not only playing a character several decades older than her, but one that remains lovable despite bigoted inclinations. Peter Farrell undergoes a total transformation as the senior Wesley, alongside the plethora of other characters he convincingly portrays.
The play is at its strongest when subtlety of character coincides with seemingly mundane occurrences to open a new portal of understanding. It is evident that this nuance emerged from the actors’ hard work and Fletcher’s capable guidance.
To portray the play’s multitude of physicalities, “We did a lot of body work in rehearsals,” McQueen confirms. Regarding the psychological development of the characters, Lauzon explains, “[We] had to do a lot of background work on the fictional characters. We constructed biographies in order to understand them.” The lights, music, and set – complete with a luggage chute – accommodate this cast of characters nicely, creating a simple and accurate airport ambiance.
Buy a ticket, board Air TNC, and embark on a journey of laughter and revelation with a quirky bunch of strangely familiar characters. But one word of advice: never underestimate the powers of a janitor.
Departures and Arrivals runs from October 29 to November 1 at the TNC Theatre (3485 McTavish). Shows start at 8 p.m. and admission is $6 for students.