Four teens, a mom, and a rabbi walk into a fitting room . . .
The Fitting Room has returned to the stage for this year’s Fringe festival, revised and refreshed. The work of local artists, nearly all of whom are UVic writing and theatre grads or current students, is on display in this creative, contemporary, and insistent one-act play.
Originally produced for Vino Buono in 2017, the structure of The Fitting Room remains simple: the stage is set as a department-store fitting room. Different combinations of a small cast of characters pass through the space, all connected in some way to the recent death of 13-year-old Noah. But as the play goes on, it becomes clear that both the setting and the tragedy are focal points for a broader range of ideas. The constraints of the single set are worked around by shifting monologues into flashback-like scenes, and Noah’s death raises larger thematic concerns: how far would you go to fit in? What makes someone a good or bad person? And how do you deal with tragedy when life keeps butting in (and not even a fitting room is private)?
A lot of coincidence is required to bring the characters into the same space, but the fitting room concept is well-integrated into the broader ideas — clothes become a metaphor for identity and a vehicle for transformation. The department store is just as public as the small community, where grief can’t be kept in a vacuum and everyone is interconnected.
Overall it has heart, and the characters are strong.
The play is a study in contrasts, and the “dramedy” genre tag in the program seems apt . There are plenty of comedic moments, especially early in the play, driven by teenage awkwardness, delightfully mismatched character dynamics, and an exceptionally expressive performance by Ciaran Volke as Henry. But tensions run high, and nearly every interaction shifts to an emotional peak that even the disembodied intrusions of the store’s intercom can’t quite defuse. Quick shifts in mood ensure that there’s never a dull moment, but the dramatic intensity verges on exhausting late in the show. Ultimately there is little resolution to the tension — themes are explored and grievances are aired, but the plot lines are largely left open-ended in favour of a somewhat disjointed flash-forward ending.
While some parts of the show lag — the coming out scene takes fairly predictable turns and has moments of stiltedness, and the layering of past and present occasionally veers from dynamic towards laborious — overall it has heart, and the characters are strong. Unexpected character pairings lead to some of the play’s most constructive and moving scenes, and the intensely messy experience of growing up is real and poignant throughout. While the characters take on recognizable roles (the mother trying her best, the kids that don’t fit in struggling with the ones that do) the play is full of specific details that make them stand out. Jewish traditions also take on a central role, and while the limitations of religious traditions are explored, faith is ultimately not the enemy, but rather a positive avenue for growth — an angle not that often seen in explorations of youth.
The Fitting Room explores the ways a tragedy throws into sharp relief the already complicated struggles of growing up. If you’ve ever worried about finding acceptance, moving forward, or finding your path, this play might be a good fit for you.
The Fitting Room plays at Metro Studio Theatre (Fringe Venue 3)
Thursday Aug. 30, 9:30 p.m. / Friday Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m. / Saturday Sep. 1, 10:00 p.m.
$11/ $9 student & senior
Fringe wristband required