Creepy Clowns, Cups of Coffee, Cringeworthy Cavemen, and Cantankerous Castmates: Come Play By The Lake at Domino Theatre

Photo of six people standing in a studio.
Cast and crew of Dress Rehearsal. Photo provided by Jen Buder.

At Come Play By The Lake, short works by local playwrights take to the Domino Theatre stage and compete for a place in the Eastern Ontario Drama League (EODL)’s One Act Festival. 

Ranging from 25 to 55 minutes in length and spanning multiple genres—the 2024 submissions include horror, romance, comedy, and metatheatre—the productions are evaluated by a panel of judges selected from the local arts community. This year, Donna Chambers, Rachel Marks, and D. T. McNichol took on the tricky task of adjudication. While the Best Production will represent Kingston in EODL’s regional competition, there are three other awards at stake: Ken Weston Best Original Script, Best Coordinated Production, and the People’s Preference. 

This weekend, the Kingston Theatre Alliance sent two critics—Haley Sarfeld and Alyce Soulodre—to report on the festival’s medley of offerings. Here are their reviews:

Left Alone by J Wes Secord

Review by Haley Sarfeld

One of these toys is not like the others! Written and directed by J Wes Secord, Left Alone follows teenage sisters Liv (Irene Kelly) and Ally (Joy Fillmore) as they explore an abandoned house, where a faulty bedroom doorknob results in a locked-in nightmare. 

Kelly and Fillmore have a believable dynamic from the get-go, though the exposition in their initial dialogue feels forced—as sisters, surely they would already know the personal details that they’re summarizing for the audience. Things take an eerie turn when Liv has a sudden headache attack, accompanied by a long, pulsing sound (which became creepier in retrospect when a post-show discussion revealed that it was not part of Helena Chau’s sound design—theatre ghosts, anyone?). Meanwhile, the toy clown in the corner (Douglas Connors) slowly comes to life and echoes Liv’s movements, with choreography that cleverly foreshadows their connection. When Ally leaves the room, a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse ensues. 

The second scene shows Liv’s younger self, Olivia (Annika Hudson), playing with her imaginary friend, Charlie (Hayley Hudson), a friendlier version of the clown. Hayley Hudson’s clowning is delightful, and the interactions between the two are just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen—the performers are a mother-daughter duo, and their energy translates adorably to the stage. The play’s fear factor soon deflates like a forgotten balloon animal, though a thread of worry remains as conflict unfolds beyond the bedroom door. 

While I’ll admit that I’m not the world’s biggest horror buff (that title goes to my colleague, Alyce, who has a PhD in the subject), the premise feels rather flimsy, and despite some strong performances, I was not totally taken in by the story. There are compelling elements at play—funny one-liners and commendable clowning—and it will be interesting to see how this show evolves in the future. To ramp up the frightening elements, Left Alone might benefit from being presented in a smaller space, where its claustrophobic qualities could—if you’ll pardon the expression—truly come alive. 

A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Penny Barker

Review by Haley Sarfeld

Winner: Best Coordinated Production

“Give me your lips for just a moment, and my imagination will make that moment live…” Written by Penny Barker and directed by Heather A. Barker, A Kiss to Build a Dream On takes a pleasant journey through a couple’s past, weaving romance between cups of coffee at a small-town cafe. 

The story gets off to a charming start as Ross (Colin Leonard) and Nora (Penny Barker) ponder what to order and chat with the cafe’s owner, Katie (Alexandra Bell). It’s soon revealed that today is Ross and Nora’s 50th anniversary, and that a not-so-secret surprise party awaits them at the legion hall in half an hour. As they stall, Katie asks the couple questions about their past, which leads to an unexpected trip down memory lane. 

Barker’s script is funny and tender, and I enjoyed how real the relationship between Ross and Nora felt, both in the writing and the performance. Tracing their lives from their first meeting, through Ross’ experience as a soldier in the Second World War, and into the challenges and joys of parenthood, A Kiss to Build a Dream On indgules in reminiscence. While a part of me felt that the conversation was somewhat contrived, another part of me knows what it’s like when two people with a little bit of time on their hands and a whole lot of history together get going on a topic. 

The show’s tight-knit community and character-driven humour reminds me of some of my favourite episodes of Schitt’s Creek, and I could easily see Ross, Nora, and Katie appearing in a similar style of sitcom. I would love to spend more time in the world of Barker’s characters—I hope that more of her writing makes its way to the Domino stage in the future.  

Off My Block by John Corrigan

Review by Haley Sarfeld

Friday night’s audience was treated to a bonus show by 2019’s Come Play By The Lake winner John Corrigan. Funnier than most stand-up comedy and more dynamic than any of the (many) mid-century nostalgia plays I’ve seen in Kingston, Off My Block proves that you only need one guy to make a good family drama—as long as the guy is John Corrigan and the drama is his family’s.

In Off My Block, Corrigan recounts his childhood in 1960s Kingston, charting a hysterical journey through the city’s streets, laneways, parks, and garages. As he takes us through a week in the life of his eight-year-old self, Corrigan transforms into hilarious caricatures of his family members and neighbours, slipping between characters so quickly that I almost couldn’t believe there was only one actor on stage. Equally seamless prop comedy—turning a bicycle handlebar into a walker as he describes a wheelie gone awry down Johnson Street—magnifies the childlike blend of mischief and innocence in his storytelling. 

While the play has broad enough appeal to resonate with audiences beyond Corrigan’s hometown, it was a delight to map the local landmarks in my head—a sign that, after ten years in this city, I might be turning into a true Kingstonian. Corrigan has an uncanny knack for recalling the simple desires and complicated feelings that come with being a kid, and he conveys them in a way that is honest, irreverent, and relentlessly entertaining. 

The Evolution of Morals, Principles, and Values by Harry Jordan

Review by Alyce Soulodre

Since time immemorial, fathers have been concerned about daughters marrying well—or so this show would have us believe. Directed by the playwright, Harry Jordan, the show takes this premise literally, beginning with a young cavewoman, Welda (Sam Daly), trying to convince her father Thor (Harry Jordan) that her beloved Gup (Will Godkin-Scott) is a worthy man for her. Fast forward to Young Tom (Rich Anderson), as a brand new father in the modern day, excitedly reflecting on all the things his daughter, Linda (Sam Daly), will get to learn and experience in the world—before coming to the horrifying realization that someday, some presumably worthless young man may want to marry her. 

The show makes a neat indication of the passage of time, with a montage of Tom and his wife Gertrude (Erin Garvin) discussing Linda’s evolving interests as she grows up. Finally, the Young Tom is replaced by an older Tom (Harry Jordan), as Linda ages into the dating world. This is a well done sequence that makes use of props like different outfits and types of phones to show changes through the years. 

As predicted, Linda begins dating a young man, Bugs (Godkin-Scott), whom Tom finds unworthy, largely due to his perceived unmanliness and general ineptitude. When Linda and Bugs become engaged, Tom is horrified. Gertrude and his mother-in-law, Bunny (Judy Beyette), try to encourage him to think positively of Bugs, especially with the prospect of grandchildren forthcoming. However, it takes a bizarre dream sequence in which Tom imagines Linda as an egg being pursued by Bugs’ sperm, and trying to choose which she will accept. While this scene has a touching ending about trust, its emotional power is undermined by the absurdity of the egg and sperm sequence. 

Although this premise is inherently presumptuous and flawed, our culture is still rooted in patriarchy, and this show was largely well-received with a lot of laughs from the audience. While I understand that it must be difficult for parents to “part” with their children when they pursue relationships, this understanding of sex and gender felt straight out of 1980s comedies that didn’t age well. While the play has a touching moral about fathers accepting their sons-in-law and trusting their daughters’ decisions about their own lives, it firmly upholds gender stereotypes (and not just stemming from Tom’s character, but throughout). Although Gertrude reminds Tom in the play that it is, after all, the year 2024, it didn’t stop The Evolution of Morals, Principles, and Values from feeling dated. 

Dress Rehearsal by Morgan Wade

Review by Alyce Soulodre

Winner: Ken Weston Best Original Script, Best Production, and the People’s Preference Award

This innovative show directed by Claudia Wade brings the audience into the performance by breaking the fourth wall to refer to us as members of the production, as if we’ve arrived there to participate in the first rehearsal. 

The show follows washed-up actors Brock (Lloyd Balme) and Penny (Jen Buder), and writer/director Alan (Cam Sedgwick), as they attempt to put together a special show of Alan’s making. While Alan insists that this show is going to be really big when it opens in two weeks, it turns out that there is no script yet, and the semi-alcoholic Alan is vastly unprepared for this endeavour. Tensions arise as Alan makes a pass at Penny, with whom Brock was previously involved (and, he hopes, perhaps will be again). 

Arguments between the troupe come to a head, with imminent breakdowns with some juicy plot twists. Although the show plays with the expectations of theatre throughout, inviting audience members on stage to participate in the rehearsal and engaging in metatheatre, they also pull off a genuine surprise twist. 

The performances are all stellar and totally believable as reluctant has-beens who are still hoping to make it big. They balanced cynicism and world-weariness with the ever-so-slight glimmer of hope that they can still turn it around and become a success. Moreover, the trio (and Wade) clearly has a passion for theatre and performance that really shine through. The script is very tight and moves at a quick but easy-to-follow pace, providing the actors with a lot of meat to work with, and they rose to the occasion. 

Come Play By The Lake ran from July 5th to 6th, 2024, and is an annual one act play festival at Domino Theatre. This year’s Best Production, ‘Dress Rehearsal’, will advance to the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s One Act Festival in Perth, Ontario, November 1st to 3rd, 2024.

Please note this article was adjusted on July 9, 2024 to remove a typographical error.


  • Kingston Theatre Alliance
  • Haley Sarfeld

    Haley Sarfeld (she/they) works as a theatre critic for the Kingston Theatre Alliance and Kingston Whig-Standard. As a playwright, performer, and composer-lyricist, she has been featured in the Shortwave Theatre Festival, Watershed Festival: Reimagining Music Theatre, and the Kick & Push Festival. Since completing her MA in Cultural Studies at Queen's University, Haley has worked in administrative and marketing roles for a variety of local arts organizations. Haley's writing can be found year-round in the Skeleton Press, where she contributes themed crossword puzzles and writes articles about sidewalks, dreams, and the radio. She has also been known to air small-city drama in Intermission Magazine. Photo by Jeff Henderson.

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  • Alyce Soulodre

    Alyce Soulodre (she/her) is a queer, self-taught artist and occasional academic writer living in Katarokwi/Kingston. She earned her Ph.D. in English from Queen’s University, where she explored monstrosity from Victorian novels to 1980s horror films, and taught a course on Victorian ghost fiction. She has been published in Attack of the New B Movies: Essays on Syfy Original Films (2023), and London’s East End: A Short Encyclopedia (2023). In her art practice, she focuses on the weird and wonderful of the natural world and popular culture, and her work reflects her fascination with creatures and plants of all kinds. She also serves on the Board of Directors at Kingston Arts Council and Union Gallery. She enjoys cheesy horror flicks, quaint detective novels, and tries to keep Halloween in her heart all throughout the year. Photo by Talib Ali.

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