Shelley Liebembuk and Dylan RyanIn most fringe festivals, comedies are usually the order of the day; it’s much easier to sell a comedy than a drama. But for those looking for shows that are meant to challenge and stir the soul, checking out a drama is the way to go. Raven for a Lark has picked up some buzz over the last few days, described as “deliciously creepy” and “a little sick but bold“. Either way, it can’t help but be interesting. I caught up with the two principals of the show, Dylan Ryan and Shelley Liebembuk, and their director Liz Truchanowicz, at the beer tent for a chat.

The show is set within another show, in this case Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus, and a center-piece to the action is a scene in which Dylan’s character Charlie is meant to rape Shelley’s character Nina. “It’s two actors, and they’re enticed by this experience,” said Ryan. “It’s the night after opening night and they’re talking about their deep, dark secrets, and the process, and their relationship with one another. Throughout the show, secrets are revealed that are creepy, and sexy, and all that good stuff.”

Ryan, a native of Ottawa studying at the University of Ottawa, is new to the production; Liebembuk reprises her role as Nina from the 2007 Summerworks production, directed by the author Elise Newman. “Last summer when we did it we were still workshopping it,” said Liebembuk. “This year, the script is slightly different, but she just handed the play over to Liz (Truchanowicz, the director), who directed us in it. It was more of a complete play that we got to play around with.”

Shelley Liebembuk and Dylan RyanThe author is a good friend to the actors, and has been in attendance during the course of the performance. Liebembuk has had a challenging experience to leave behind the previous production and start over afresh. “I had to leave my baggage behind; it was really exciting and interesting. At first my fear was that I would bring the exact same thing and not take in the differences. But Liz had a very specific view and it happened to be quite different from the director’s take last summer. It really allowed me to say, right away, okay, this is a different character. And it is the same text, but the playwright has changed it over the course of the year. The biggest challenge was actually not remembering old lines. It’s really interesting to work on the same play but have it be a very different character.”

I asked the cast about their favourite moments in the show. For Ryan, “I would probably say, this will probably sound bad, there is a moment where we use a knife in the show. It’s my favourite moment because it scares the audience, and they get into it. It’s one of the most nerve-wracking moments, where the most emotions come out from the audience.” For Liebembuk, “At the very end we switched it up very close to the beginning of the fringe run. We actually changed it from the first night to the second night; we added a final element to the end. When we added it, we got a very surprised action from the audience. It was really cool. It’s great to have them with you, to the point that you’re leading them along all the way to the very final moment.”

Liebembuk and Ryan hope that the audience comes away slightly tormented by the situation presented. “Hopefully they’ll be attracted by the characters at first,” says Ryan, “but once secrets are revealed, they’ll feel screwed by them, and kind of angry towards them.” Liebembuk added that the script is very engaging. “I think also a surprising element for the audience is that the script has a lot of funny, quirky lines and cute turns of phrase. It also deals very much with Shakespeare.”

Ryan mentioned that the show is “very much an actor’s show,” with a lot of inside actors’ jokes. After a silence the director, Liz Truchanowicz was quick to add, “But you don’t have to be an actor to enjoy it.”

Raven for a Lark plays this Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, at the Arts Court Library.

Previous interviews:
Interview with Vision Theatre (4Play: One-Acts by David Ives)
Interview with Weeping Spoon productions (Greed)
Interview with Brigette DePape (She Rules With Iron Stix)
Amy Salloway (Circumference)
The Absinthe Collective (A Leave of Absinthe)
Peter Hayes (The Tricky Part) and Greg Landucci (Mr. Fox)
Penny Ashton (MC Hot Pink / Busty Rhymes)
Keir Cutler (Teaching the Fringe)
Celeste Sansregret (Wonderbar!)
Jem Rolls (How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall)