Cheticamp’s Alex Poirier
It’s New Year's Eve, 1986.
Dean is working the graveyard shift at a local TV station, wasting time in the back office as the world outside cheers the coming of the new year. His solitary night of self-pity and Chinese food takeout is interrupted by a ringing telephone –a wrong number. On a normal night, that would be the end of it. But amid the beginnings of an awkward, halting conversation, the young caller inadvertently lets slip a secret: He's planning to commit suicide. Tonight. At midnight.
The stumbling seesaw discussion that follows leads both young men – one we see and one we only hear over the telephone line – from Three's Company and Top Gun to nuclear war, from first kisses, loves lost, and bedroom politics, to the hidden wisdom of Ms. Pac-Man.
Both Viewer Discretion Productions and its first work – the original two-act play, Tough Call, an irreverent dramatic comedy set in the mid-’80s – were born thanks to the serendipitous influence of old television sitcoms.
The irreverent dramatic comedy is the product of a three-year-long, by-your-bootstraps campaign by actor Alex Poirier, an Inverness County native and an alumni of Toronto’s Humber School of Creative and Performing Arts.
Shouldering both creative and administrative duties and forming his own company, Viewer Discretion Productions, as a vehicle for the project, Poirier first began work on Tough Call while living in Toronto and chose Sydney's Highland Arts Theatre as the venue for the show’s premiere.
Poirier describes the origin of the play: "I was in Toronto. It was a warm night, too warm to go outside – and we didn't have air conditioning. I remember I was fanning myself with my girlfriend's little purple hair dryer set to ‘cool.’ It wasn't helping much, so I went to the basement to see if it was any better down there. There was a TV in the basement, hooked up to an aging laptop and a Netflix account. What followed was a binge. Somewhere between a ‘very special episode’ of Family Ties and the teary-eyed graduation finale of Saved by the Bell.”
Poirier began thinking about what made ‘80s sitcoms so entertaining – and so limited in some ways – and why they always seemed to work best when serious real-world topics came crashing into the lives of the characters."
That mixture of comedy and drama, the relationship between what's funny and what's tragic – and what's funny about what's tragic – informed the writing of Tough Call.
At key intervals in the writing and rewriting process, Poirier worked with longtime collaborator Ryan Doucette, originally from Clare, now based in Prince Edward Island.
The 500 kilometres separating them proved an obstacle, one which necessitated some spur-of-the-moment solutions. The pair stayed up late nights reading, pitching, and reworking the script via phone, Skype, and text message.
Poirier admits his struggles with clinical depression made the job especially onerous for him at times – and also helped inspire the writing process.
“My intention in writing Tough Call was to entertain, of course. In my line of work 'preachy' is bad, very bad. I worked hard to avoid that. But I’ve never been shy about my experiences and I wasn’t shy about sharing, especially if it served the story and the characters.”
Tough Call is all about character. The play’s protagonist is Dean, an underachieving Ferris-Bueller-meets-John-Bender type who answers a mysterious phone call while working on New Year’s Eve, 1986 – and whose young interlocutor eventually lets slip that he’s planning to commit suicide at midnight.
“It’s a heavy topic. And these characters are forced to confront the topic head-on, and that’s the beauty of it. The comedy and the drama comes from the characters. They react, we react. So it can be dramatic, profane, sweet, gut-wrenching, and hilarious – it can be all those things because that’s what we’re all like. That’s what it aims to be,” says Poirier.
The year 1986, incidentally, was chosen as the play’s period setting as much for its colourful spirit and familiar pop culture landmarks as for its special place in Poirier’s heart.
Once the script was complete, Poirier – with help from Doucette – founded Viewer Discretion Productions to bring to life the dramatic premise that materialized that unseasonably warm night in 2015. The first point of business, after the venerable Highland Arts Theatre was chosen as a venue, was the design and creation of promotional imagery that would catapult the theme and mood of the show into the minds of theatregoers.
For the task, Poirier sought out American artist Rocky Davies, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, whose unique pop culture sensibility has made a splash in everything from books to cartoons to video games, and whose portfolio includes work for Nickelodeon, Disney Interactive, and Adult Swim Games. The resulting promotional poster, which can be seen online and at various locations around Cape Breton (including at a certain popular Inverness coffee shop), is an eye-popping mash-up of design esthetics that draws inspiration from classic movie posters of the 1980s and the ostentatious covers of Goosebumps and Christopher Pike novels from the early ‘90s.
What does the future hold for Viewer Discretion Productions and Tough Call? Poirier is optimistic. “It's going to be a great show – I think people are really going to respond to it. And then, who knows? It's a tight-knit production and it's designed to travel light. And who's to say the story couldn't work on other fronts, too, as a feature-length film, for instance? There are artists doing film work here, right here in Cape Breton, like the crazy guys over at Tar City Productions in Sydney.”
Tough Call plays for two nights at the Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney – on Friday, June 1st and Saturday, June 2nd, both showings at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets are $20.00 and available online at http://www.highlandartstheatre.com/ or at the HAT box office at 902- 565-3637.
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