Oh, the Humanity, "A Universal Expunging"
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Oh, the Humanity, “A Universal Expunging”

Photo by Kim Haladay and Kent Robinson.

Will Eno is a Guggenheim Fellowship–winning playwright whom Toronto audiences might remember for his Pulitzer-finalist drama Thom Pain (based on nothing), which played at Tarragon a few seasons back. However, outside of that show, Toronto hasn’t seen much of the acclaimed writer’s work, and new independent company Outside the March‘s production of his play Oh, the Humanity (and other good intentions)—which opened last night—is actually the show’s Canadian premiere. The show is made up of five vignettes that focus on realistic characters in vulnerable situations—a couple attempt online dating, an airline spokesperson must account for a tragedy, a coach gives a press conference after a football season. But in the heightened world of Eno, that realistic coach could easily enough find himself bursting into form poetry.
After the fold, we talk to the co-artistic directors of Outside the March—Simon Bloom, and (former Torontoist contributor) Mitchell Cushman—who tell us all about Eno, catharsis, and how theatre is like moving in with your girlfriend.

Torontoist: Tell us about the history of Outside the March.
Simon Bloom: Mitchell and I initially met through the Theatrical Society at the University of King’s College in Halifax. We directed, acted in, and helped paint the floors of many, many productions together. We share a creative spirit and rigor for producing quality, interesting, and exciting theatre. When we both graduated, Mitch moved to Alberta to pursue an MFA and I started freelance directing in the Halifax independent scene. We still kept in touch, and after many phone conversations about the kind of theatre we wanted to do and the kind of people we wanted to do it with, Outside the March was founded. This month marks the first time that Mitch and I haven’t been busy working on other projects in other cities, and so we have been able to come together in Toronto to co-direct this show together. Co-directing a play together is probably the best way to really sort out whether or not you want to start a company together—it’s like moving in with a girlfriend. There’s the honeymoon, of course, but then there’s all the parts that you try to hide from the other person for whatever reason. Suffice to say, we have dispensed with the niceties and have come out the other side mostly unscathed with a refined, shared creative vision.
How does it feel to be making your big debut with the Canadian premiere of a Guggenheim Fellowship–winning playwright?
Mitchell Cushman: I was really excited to discover that the show had never been done in this country before. There’s definitely something special about feeling like you are introducing something new to people—especially something really unique and worth discovering, like Eno’s writing. I’m the kind of person who forces my favourite books and movies down my friends’ throats, so I guess this is the logical extension of that. I first stumbled over this play at Theatre Books a year ago. I started flipping through the first scene, and before I knew it, I had read the entire play. In the store. Which sums up what I love about his writing: it’s concise, engaging, and impossible to put down.
Why do you think we haven’t seen more of Will Eno in Toronto by now?
MC: I think a lot of theatre people don’t fully know what to make of Eno’s work. It walks this fine line where it could be seen as much as prose poetry as drama—there’s no real plot to speak of, and there’s this inherent challenge of trying to make these poetic speeches natural and believable in the moment. How does a football coach break out into a sonnet (an obscure genre of sonnet at that!) in the middle of a media press conference, without it feeling disingenuous? That being said, I think what’s special, what’s beautiful about his writing is that it is fundamentally, relentlessly honest in nature, and it’s been a truly rewarding experience watching the actors tap into this during our rehearsal process. The unabashed nature of the script has allowed each of them to really draw on their own experiences, more so than on any show I’ve ever worked on. So you’ll be seeing Eno’s characters on stage, but also you’ll be seeing the perspectives, frustrations, joys, and pains of a group of young actors at the beginning of their careers.
Why is Oh, the Humanity an important piece of theatre?
SB: Beyond simply the quirkiness and poetic eloquence of the writing, this play is an important piece of theatre because it gives voice to that secret, inner anguish that is so private and yet shared as a collective human experience. As I go to rehearsal every day on the subway, I see regular, everyday people and know that inside they are all battling with personal demons that they are unwilling, afraid, or unsure of how to share with other people. This play is a universal expunging, a catharsis for all humans everywhere.
Oh, the Humanity (and other good intentions) plays at the Abrams Studio Theatre until July 31.