Talking to Strangers

It’s been done before, and Moving Parts Theatre is doing it again — transforming Well Read Books into a theatre. Around the corner from the till, in the back, is the stage, wedged between the “Biography” and “Literature” sections on one side, and “Hobby & Craft/Trains, Boats & Planes” on the other.

“People are Strange” by the Doors plays softly, surround sound, as the audience settles on opening night, February 19. There are about 25 seats, 10 are taken. One woman stretches her legs onto the empty chair in front of her. People sip mugs of tea and coffee. The lights dim, the music changes, and Jacob Fitzsimmons waltzes onto the stage. He displays a wooden sign with the words, “Luke meets Charlene at a really nice bar” burned onto it.

He’s a good dancer, unabashed. People in the audience laugh, as does whoever is controlling the music from a laptop in the “Hobby” section. He waltzes off, into the dark aisles of books that serve at stage exits.

What follows is the first of 11 plays; all of them are about seven minutes long. Mike Ivens and Carolyn Westberg play Ralph and Mona, a couple who pretend to be “Luke” and “Charlene”. They’re doing role-play. They pretend to be strangers, meeting in a bar.

Talking to Strangers is the name of the night of theatre, and a loose theme that runs through the series of plays. Taking in the two hour show is like reading an entire short story compilation in one sitting, because you can’t put it down. The beginning of each new story is hard to get into, because the previous one still rings in your head. But applause from the small audience fills the room at the end of each. Sighs are audible.

Some of the plays are fantastical, like “Stuck”, where two strangers are trapped in a revolving door, and “Your Kiss is on My List”, where a woman tells a strange man at the bus stop, “You can kiss me. If you want”. She collects kisses; so far she has 387 under her belt. She writes each one down in a notebook, describes it, and ranks it.

Others would be mundane, if they weren’t so honest, like “Lost in Thought”. A man is (pantomiming) washing dishes alone, but he’s haunted by thoughts of an ex. There’s sex and quite a good fight in this play, but not really, because it’s all imagined.

Talking to Strangers shows us how chance encounters in the airport can grab our safe little worlds and turn them upside-down, or that it’s not the cards in a person’s hand that matter, but how he plays them. Christopher Lockheardt wrote the plays; Anton Solomon, the artistic director of Moving Parts, directed seven of them, while Mike Ivens directed three. Both Solomon and Ivens act in more than one.

Two hours of plays goes by fast. During intermission, the audience mingles with the actors, peruse the bookshelves, or make eye contact with strangers. There’s a tentative standing ovation after the final play, “The Last Words of Sir Rupert Currington, as Captured on his Death Bed by Nurse Heely”. It’s the only play where the actors speak with affected accents.

Talking to Strangers runs until Feb. 28. It’s at Well Read Books at 8 pm, admission is $17. 

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