by Dana Truelove
The Glebe has been buzzing over the last two weekends about Burn, an original play by John Muggleton, a Glebite, Ottawa Acting Company co-founder and, evidently, lover of all things creepy, mysterious and let’s face it, downright scary. Burn is playing to sold-out houses and is leaving audiences debating, questioning and revelling in the rush that comes only after seeing a truly hair raising thriller experienced live in an intimate space like the Avalon Studio. One audience member explains the distinctive appeal of Burn: “It doesn’t even feel like a play. It’s a real-time, three-dimensional story unfolding in someone’s loft apartment right before your eyes.”
Burn is indeed enacted in real time, void of set changes or intermissions, clipping briskly along through its 90 minutes. Kevin Reid (The Visitorium) raves, “I was almost dumbstruck by how naturalistic the whole affair felt, and the sense that I was peering in on a group of old friends whose lives were slowly being turned upside down for reasons they didn’t understand. It was wonderful and more than a little unsettling.”
Burn is based on Ottawa folklore and is the tale of three friends who share a long history of competing to create disturbing ghost and horror stories. In the cozy Avalon Studio, the audience hunkers down in Robert’s (Chris Torti) living room with his friends Samira (Tahera Mufti) and David (Michael Thompson), awaiting the arrival of the mysterious, awkward and increasingly unnerving Eve (Megan Carty), whose own ghost story is about to upend their lives. “Muggleton and the cast take the time to establish characters and invite the audience into their private world. Empathy is a powerful drug and it’s this intimacy that makes the suspense and horror, when it does come, that much more powerful” (Maja Stefanovsky, Capital Critics Circle).
Muggleton explains that his script developed out of an urban myth that fascinated him as a child. “I remembered this story told to me by my dad when I was a kid, about a real guy in our town, and it always stayed with me,” he muses. An award-winning actor, director and writer, Muggleton is a recipient of the Audrey Ashley Award for longstanding contributions to the Ottawa theatre community. His former career as a funeral director no doubt informed Burn, his first full-length play. The result, he says, is “the product of five draft scripts and a selective casting process.”
Burn’s diverse ensemble ranges from seasoned professional actors to newcomers trained at the Ottawa Acting Company. Megan Carty is one of the city’s most celebrated young actors, is currently up for multiple professional acting awards and is showcased to full effect in Burn. This upcoming spring, she can be seen in girls!girls!girls! in the Independent Collective Series at Arts Court, and in In the Room at the NAC. Tahera Mufti is a familiar face in the Glebe as an active member of the community and the chair of Taste in the Glebe; Burn marks her first acting performance. Chris Torti, Glebite and veteran student of the Ottawa Acting Company, has appeared in multiple shows at Ottawa Little Theatre. Michael Thompson has performed across Canada as a musician for over 25 years, and makes his acting debut in Burn.
Burn has opened to critical acclaim in addition to audience popularity. Jamie Portman (Capital Critics Circle) writes, “As a suspense playwright, Muggleton appreciates the need to orchestrate surprises…throwing an audience off balance.” In a moment exemplifying the play’s slightly self-referential style, and as a metaphorical wink to the spectators, Eve says to Robert, “I love the way you build suspense.” This is the slow burn of Burn, a relaxed, laughter-filled evening between friends gradually becomes an uncomfortable and ultimately torturous experience that leaves the characters at the end of their ropes and the audience at the edge of their seats.
As a creepy and fun activity between Christmas and New Years, Burn is “a terrific homegrown slice of mystery and psychological mayhem… Just make sure the lights are working at home before you check it out… This one may very well leave you with an awesome case of the creeps.” (Kevin Reid). Following the sold-out first run, additional shows have been added to meet demand. Tickets are available at www.burntheplay.ca for December 28, 29 and 30.
Dana Truelove is a psychotherapist practising in Westboro and at Carleton University. She is a theatre lover, actor and freelance writer who is married to Burn playwright John Muggleton.