The Paprika Festival is Hot Hot Hot!

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Last month the Paprika Festival served up some spicy dishes. Founded by Anthony Furey in 2002, Tarragon Theatre’s annual festival provides a unique opportunity for young artists to meet and be mentored by experienced playwrights. It’s actually Toronto’s only free theatre festival for young people, showcasing the talent of those under 21. With this year’s line-up ranging from teenage depression to game shows from hell, Paprika had something to satisfy everyone’s taste.

Like any series of original works the festival had its hits and its… less than spectacular pieces. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of the most impressive play of the festival. Evacuate by Katie Alguire was the cream of the crop. Alguire, a young playwright from York University, has spent the year working with Dora-winning playwright Anna Chatterton.

Her one-act play tells the story of a geriatric couple, John and Iris, living in an area of British Columbia plagued by forest fires. They are struggling against the trials of aging, losing their senses, their mobility, their memories, and their ability to take care of themselves. Their children want to send them to a retirement home, but they refuse to leave their house. When a blaze breaks out nearby, they decide not to leave despite evacuation orders.

For such a young writer, the senior voices are surprisingly accurate - she succeeds in capturing their speech patterns and personality, the little nuances that so clearly define a person’s age. Perhaps this is because the story hits close to home for Alguire who has based the characters on her own grandparents. Their stubbornness is also inspired by her own experience. She jokes that the only way her grandparents would leave their house is if they were smoked out, and thus Evacuate was conceived. The dark humour and the very real struggles are both heart warming and heartbreaking.

Last summer I had the pleasure of reviewing Alguire’s Toronto debut, a short play titled The Keepers Secret. As a playwright in residence at Tarragon Theatre, its hard to believe how much she’s grown since her 2009 Fringe show. She has a maturity and honesty that is rare to find in playwrights under 30.

Keep your eyes peeled for a another serving of Evacuate sometime in the near future. The very modest Alguire says “it still needs some work,” but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it on the menu for Fringe shows and other emerging artist productions.