Book/play review: “Outside” by Paul Dunn

I would like to start my review by saying thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for giving me an opportunity to not only read the play but also attend the launch party and the performance at Buddies in Bad Times theatre.

 

My review might contain some spoilers.

Outside cover

Synopsis

 

Daniel’s ready to talk. And his friends Krystina and Jeremy are ready to help. But is it too late? Set in separate but simultaneous lunch periods at two different high schools, the teenagers are faced with acknowledging what drove them apart. At his new school, Daniel speaks to the Gay-Straight Alliance about the bullying and depression that forced him to move. He looks back fondly at the bond he formed with Krystina and Jeremy in history class and the trauma he faced from anonymous text messages. At his former school, Krystina and Jeremy are setting up for their first GSA meeting while grappling with the guilt of not doing more to help their friend. For the first time Daniel has an appreciative audience, but his friends face an empty room. The narratives intertwine as Daniel gains more confidence in his queer identity and Krystina and Jeremy try to assess their boundaries as straight people who want to create a safe space. By talking about mistakes, abuse, a suicide attempt and a move, the teens find comfort in perspective and power in numbers.

 

Review

 

I read Outside in one go – it is a short and a quick read. The perspective shifts flawlessly from Daniel to Krystina and Jeremy and back. It is not easy to read this play, as you can see from the very beginning how everything starts to snowball and you begin to dread the ending. As always when I read about bullying, I was overcome with annoyance towards adults in the play who would not interfere or do enough to help Daniel. The thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ followed me throughout my reading experience, and once the play was over, I was left feeling slightly bereft. As if there was something else that was missing from it. Something vital, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 

Outside launch party

 

I went to the launch party and got to listen to Paul Dunn and Andrew Lamb, the Artistic Director of Roseneath Theatre, talk about the inspiration behind the play, the research they did, and the reception by the targeted audience. Since I barely skim through synopses on the backs of books before reading them – for the fear of spoilers – I had not realized before coming to the launch that this play is written as an educational piece for the way younger audience than myself. It is targeted at grades 7 to 12 kids and is intended to be a conversation starter about bullying in schools and how this behaviour can lead to serious consequences. The play was partially inspired by the stories behind “It Gets Better” campaign, and we see Daniel when he is already in a better place and safe, as his story unfolds through the series of flashbacks.

 

After the party – and getting my copy signed by the author, yay! – we went to see the play. It was a great production with some ingenious set design that allowed the actors to quickly change the scene by moving parts of it. The design is minimalist and parts of the costumes are interchangeable, which allows actors to do everything on stage themselves, and makes touring across the province possible. I loved the cast! They all fit their characters perfectly. The cast is as follows: G. Kyle Shields as Daniel, Mina James as Krystina, and Giacomo Sellar as Jeremy. (I couldn’t place where I had seen Mina before, but then found out that she played Helena in “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park in 2016. That was a fun play!)

 

Cast of Outside

 

After the performance, the actors stayed on stage and explained how they usually follow up the performance with introducing themselves, and then starting the dialogue with the audience and answering questions. They talked both about their experiences as actors and as educators and how much impact the play has on schoolkids. Some kids even came up to them after the show, identifying with the characters and sharing their stories.

 

Outside creative team

 

One of the interesting aspects mentioned by the cast is how different it is to perform this play (or read it for that matter) in front of adults and children. Adult viewers can tell immediately how serious things are and how potentially dangerous situation was for Daniel – and this was exactly how I felt while reading the play. Kids, however, are not able to foresee the consequences. In some aspect, their reactions to what is happening on stage is genuine and uninhibited. For example, kids tend to find certain things funny and would laugh in the places, where adults would not. The actors mentioned that even if there is noise during the performance at the beginning, it usually dies down by the end of the play.

 

Andrew Lamb mentioned that after their performances many schools across Ontario started their own Gay-Straight Alliances. To date, over 34,000 young people have seen the play. This is amazing!

 

I was absolutely delighted by the concept of blending theatre and education! Needless to say, the bullying is an incredibly serious problem and can lead to devastating results as it is proven again and again (as I am writing this, there was another story on the news about the boy committing suicide after being severely bullied as school in QC). It is on us, adults, to prevent this from happening not only by executing vigilance, but also by educating kids.

 

This is a wonderful and educational play, and I hope that it would continue its touring across Ontario, and there is also a possibility for it going to US! Wishing all the best to Paul Dunn and the creative team behind the play!

 

Book rating: 4 stars

Performance rating: 5 stars

 

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