The Quotable Sayak: “‘Under the Stairs’ is full of heart, comedy, energy, and complicated real-world issues”

The Quotable Sayak

The Quotable Sayak

The Quotable Sayak is a critic, contributor and coordinator of social media at Sesaya. Naturally arts-inclined, he is a drama major in a secondary arts program and music student at Sesaya.

Kyle Orzech in Under the Stairs; Set Design by Teresa Przybylski; Costume Design by Anna Treusch; Lighting Design by Michelle Ramsay | Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Young People’s Theatre’s (YPT) new original semi-musical Under the Stairs written by Kevin Dyer and music composed by Reza Jacobs is full of heart, comedy, energy, and complicated real-world issues. And if that last point feels random, don’t worry . . . because it doesn’t in this show. Complicated real-world issues involving abandonment, past trauma, family dynamics and honesty are woven into this tight 80-minute fairy tale pretty seamlessly.

The basic premise of this show is that the main character Tim (Kyle Orzech) finds out that his constantly fighting parents (Neema Bickersteth and Martin Julien) have left him alone in his house. Feeling scared and lonely, he goes under the stairs into a closet where he is surprised to find three other strangers living there, all with really interesting pasts and personalities. Violet  (Fiona Sauder) is recovering from abandonment. Lily (Kelsey Verzotti) is clearly complicated and has a troubled past (which I wish we got to dive into way more), and Albert (Paul Rainville) is emotionally shut down. This gives you a sense of some of the issues that are touched on during this show.

And there is a lot more to this story. Besides the serious themes, one thing to note is that the only singing that takes place during this show is upstairs, outside of the closet. I think that because everything is so convoluted and complicated out there in the “real world”, the singing expresses what words can’t. Because singing involves so many other elements outside of just the lyrics, it showcases how Tim never really knows the whole truth or facts as to what’s happening in his life or his parents’. The only real place he can get these true facts and honest opinions is under the stairs . . . where there is no singing, but rather really fascinating and often humorous conversations among these characters who are all a little damaged.

l-r: Richard Lee, Neema Bickersteth, Kyle Orzech, Martin Julien and Fiona Sauder in Under the Stairs; Set Design by Teresa Przybylski; Costume Design by Anna Treusch; Lighting Design by Michelle Ramsay | Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The songs that are utilised in this play are not toe-tapping and upbeat, but rather unique and atmospheric. They fit this show and only this show. Unfortunately, due to a lack of distinct choruses, and the use of specific and stylized instrumentals, these tracks can seem forgettable. Given their function, I guess it makes sense that these songs leave no lasting impression in the way that, for example, the songs of Dear Evan Hansen, The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music might. But part of me wishes that there was at least one big number that really stuck in my head. I like it when I leave the show humming, and the music has a lasting impact on my memories of the show.

Another element that is really interesting during this show is the constant references to popular movies and fairy tales, like Toy Story, Pinocchio, Harry Potter, and Hansel and Gretel. These references serve a specific purpose – to help us understand that this is a fairy tale world. They are mostly humorous and amusing, but by the end of the play, they started to feel a little repetitive and overdone. More importantly, I feel like this show skipped over answering some huge questions, which felt pretty frustrating for me. For instance . . . why isn’t Tim freaked out when he finds out that a stranger holds his hand every time he goes under the stairs? Yes, I know this is a fairy tale . . . but it’s still creepy and stalkerish, especially when the person holding his hand is basically a stranger who he doesn’t know (at least by that point in the musical). Also, why weren’t the parents confused, angry, or even surprised when they found out that random strangers were living in their house? I get that these two things are not that important to the larger picture, but in the moment, thinking about these seemingly “small” questions pulled me out of the story.

While I had some quibbles with this play, I found it overall quite enjoyable, and I think it is vital that families go out and watch it together. This play is relevant, moving, and – while intentionally uncomfortable to watch at points – important. On top of all that, the set by Teresa Przybylski featuring the angular stairway to the sky is cool and really well-utilised; the cast is all great (the magnetic Richard Lee as the “Leader of Them” is the glue that binds these two worlds together seamlessly), and the story this play tells is rather captivating. Under the Stairs closes April 16th, so buy your tickets soon.

Kyle Orzech and Kelsey Verzotti in Under the Stairs; Set Design by Teresa Przybylski; Costume Design by Anna Treusch; Lighting Design by Michelle Ramsay | Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

News You Can Use

What: Under the Stairs (world Premiere) written by Kevin Dyer; Music by Reza Jacobs; Directed by Micheline Chevrier
Performed by Neema Bickersteth, Martin Julien, Richard Lee, Kyle Orzech, Paul Rainville, Fiona Sauder, Kelsey Verzotti

When: On stage until April 16, 2019

Where: Young People’s Theatre Mainstage, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, ON

Curriculum Connections: Language, The Arts (Drama, Music), Health and Physical Education (Healthy Relationships)

Explore and Learn: Under the Stairs Study Guide

Info and Tickets: youngpeoplestheatre.ca 

© Sayak S-G, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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