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Ontario Was Here

a Play
by Darren Canady

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 5231

SHOWING : February 10, 2018 - March 04, 2018



A passion for helping without getting emotionally involved is the fine line that social workers walk every day. Penni and Nathan are on the front lines of Kansas City’s Department of Children and Families. Tempers flare when these co-workers find themselves at odds over the best interests of a nine year-old boy, Ontario. Beyond their relationship and careers, what’s at stake is literally life and death.

Director Cynthia D. Barker
Nathan u/s Branden Cleveland
Penni u/s Jasmine Renee Ellis
Penni Brittany L. Smith
Nathan Seun Soyemi
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Rot and Overwrought
by playgoer
Sunday, February 18, 2018
"Ontario Was Here" pits two social workers against one another concerning the care of a child named Ontario. Penni (Brittany L. Smith) wants him placed in foster care; Nathan (Seun Soyemi) wants him to stay with his recovering drug addict mother. Plug in the complications: Penni and Nathan are former lovers; Nathan is now carrying on with Ontario’s mother; Penni’s white husband pens a newspaper article critical of Nathan. An unhappy ending is assured.

Darren Canady’s play intersperses fairly realistic two-person scenes with more stylized, theatrical scenes addressing the audience as potential interns or addressing unseen persons, often with speech that moves in and out of unison. Cynthia D. Barker has directed the show with almost manic intensity and nearly non-stop speed. With audience on opposite sides of the stage, she has blocked some of the stylized scenes with the two actors standing in the audience aisles across from one another, so only one actor’s face is visible to half the audience. This works well with rapid, semi-unison back-and-forth, but she also blocks Penni’s big monologue about a "conjure woman" with Penni in the audience, invisible to at least half of that side of the audience. It’s a baffling blocking choice that only highlights the tonal dissonance of this scene’s appearance in the play.

Daniella Ampudia’s set design makes use of six opaque glass panels on wheels, plus office and park furniture that wheels on and off across the muted carpeting for various scenes. It works well enough, especially with Maximo Grano de Oro’s expressive lighting design and Andrew Cleveland’s music choices for covering scene changes. Nicole Clockel’s costume changes mesh seamlessly with the scene changes, and Cody Russell’s extensive props work well within the story.

The claustrophobic nature of the story is emphasized by recorded speech in occasional scenes. We see only two actors, and the story is bigger than just the two of them. The actors both do fine work with their overwrought characters as the rot of the social justice system infects their lives, but the non-stop onslaught of their bickering and the infernal pace of the action can be off-putting. It’s hard to really like either character, even though they’re both portrayed as martyrs to the cause of Life-Altering Social Work. As the intermissionless play slowly draws to a close, it becomes more and more depressing and less and less interesting. Social work is hard, yes, but sitting through this play shouldn’t be. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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