by Ottawa Fringe
June 21, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
“It’s called The Search for a Reason for a Murder,” describes Devon Hyland, the guy in the blue shirt. “You have to say it slow like that to get the words right,” adds Connor Thompson, the guy in the red shirt. You can tell just by talking to them how well they work on stage, filling in for each other to complete the paragraphs that would make up this interview.
“Some people have being saying A Search for a Reason for a Murder, “ continues Connor, “and those people are dead wrong. It’s too vague. The search is more specific.”
The comedy duo won over last year’s Ottawa Fringe audiences with their best-in-venue hit, Dale Beaner and the Turtle Boy, taking the show across Canada from Toronto all the way to Victoria. “We had a great time,” says Devon, “driving all the way to Victoria, and driving all the way back. So that’s our fringe experience. Of all those festivals, Ottawa was the most fun. It really was. Edmonton was huge and great, and Toronto, we’re from there so that was a lot of fun, but I really like this fringe tent area a lot. And the people here are great, too. So I’m liking this fringe a lot.” He leans closer to the microphone and intones: “People of Ottawa are the greatest people in Canada.”
Connor also enjoys the Ottawa Fringe scene. “This is a nice mix of big enough that it feels like a big deal, a legitimate festival, but small enough that you can come here and see people every day you recognize, it’s intimate. This courtyard is a brilliant idea.” Devon adds, “and nobody is trying to land a TV deal with these shows, but there’s a lot of good theatre that’s done here.”
It’s a far cry from their first Fringe experience: the Atlantic Fringe, in 2009. Devon explains. “The people were fine, but we didn’t love the festival. We flew out there from Toronto, and they put us into a theatre that could have held, maybe 21 people, and we could never fill it the whole time.” Adds Connor, “It was a last minute replacement venue for a theatre they’d originally had and thusly it wasn’t even on the map in the program.”
The venue for The Search for a Reason for a Murder is the IT Hall, BYOV E, on the third floor of the Tabaret building; it might feel a bit out of the way as well, the first time you go to it. But Devon and Connor do well with the space, and within minutes you forget you’re sitting in something which is essentially a classroom. Plus, with reclining chairs and air conditioning, it might be one of the more popular venues in the festival.
I ask them about the show, and Connor walks me through it. “It takes place in a weird town that’s overseen by a mayor who is crazy, and has the power to change the name of the town to whatever he likes. And when that happens, the citizens take on the trait of whatever he names it. So some of the names are Chinese Food Town, Teapot Town (where everybody is short and stout).”
Devon carries on the narrative. “So the mayor has complete control over all the people in his town, but then this other man, who wants to be a young adult fiction writer, he comes to this town and sees that this is just nonsense, and so he starts to question and ultimately wants to take down the mayor. Especially when the mayor turns it into MurderTown, which is pretty much where the play begins. And everyone is just murdering each other, and Kyle has to stop it. It’s very Shakespearian in that sense.”
One of the hallmarks of the performances I’ve seen of Connor and Devon, apart from the ease with which they operate together on stage, is that you don’t quite know what’s scripted and what’s improvised; you can tell there are moments of improvisation, but it’s done just well enough that you don’t know whether it’s planned or accidental. “I’d say it’s about 80 percent scripted, and 20 per cent improv,” says Devon; Connor adds, “there are actually three people in the show – though Devon and I wrote it, and technically are the only performers in it, we bring up an audience member for a good thirty per cent of the show. Someone is on the stage with us.” The result can be “disastrous,” pipes in Devon, to which Connor continues, “I was going to say bemusing, to the people who get pulled, or disastrous is another way to put it. I am the one who has to select this person early in the show, so it’s a lot of pressure on me to find the right person.”
While the audience interaction component might not be for everyone, Devon assures me that there’s no pressure on the selected audience member to perform. “We try to get everyone involved – we make a lot of jokes, at our own expense.” Connor adds, “The fourth wall is broken in the first scene, the show is narrated by these two janitors – who are telling this story, they talk to the audience whole time.”
Last year’s Fringe saw no less than three comedy duos performing shows, including another returning duo, The Peter ‘n Chris Show. I ask Connor and Devon how they feel about the popularity of the duo format. Connor’s demeanor changes noticeably. “Those jerks. Listen, stop recording right now. I’m going to tell you right now how much I hate those … Peter and Chris can just suck a giant… and you can just fill in whatever you want. Who got shut out of the awards? Just us. Everyone else got an award except us. I’d also like to point out too that in Dale Beaner and the Turtle Boy I wore a red shirt, and Devon wore a green shirt, and then Peter and Chris saw that and went out and bought similarly-coloured shirts to wear. Not the same colours, but almost the same colours. So include that, and suck it again, Peter and Chris.”
Devon sums it up with a smile and a glint in his eye. “We hate those guys, they’re so dead to us.”
The Search For A Reason For A Murder plays in BYOV E, the IT Hall.