A nearly full house at the John J. Conklin Theatre rose to their feet in a standing ovation on Wednesday, Nov. 1 for the final show of Renee’s theatrical run, presented by the The Department of English, Theatre, Film & Media Theatre Program Students.
The play is the first for writer and director Ryan Osodo, a third-year theatre and philosophy student at the U of M.
The story follows a trio of childhood friends — the passionate and frustrated title character Renee, played by Ivy Akhidenor, Renee’s boyfriend, the ambitious, straitlaced actor Manny, played by Tomisin Akintokun and his brash bad boy buddy Kane, played by Emmanuel Oderemi — as their relationships come to a head, finally being pulled apart.
The play came together for Osodo in a moment of inspiration while watching a UM Theatre Program production of Scorched this past March. Having already seen the play multiple times, Osodo’s mind started to wander.
“The play just started forming itself,” Osodo said. “I just wrote it in my head, like a rough draft at the moment.”
Tired of the melodrama and stuffiness of the classic theatre pieces he had studied in school, Osodo found the play Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks to be inspiring.
“It wasn’t trying to be ‘theatre,’” Osodo said. “It was just someone who wrote the work, a story that felt compelling and it was urban, and it was about the struggle in the inner city.”
Renee takes after Topdog/Underdog in depicting urban struggle, largely taking place in a time of financial insecurity for Manny and Renee, as Renee works as a waitress while Manny is trying to find work as an actor. Manny also owes money to childhood friend Kane, now a swaggering hustler who does not take well to debtors, threatening Manny’s life throughout.
Osodo pointed to a Seinfeld-ian drive to normality in the writing, saying, “regular life has a lot of stuff that happens and it’s very interesting.”
The play’s dialogue, written in very loose, modern language certainly reflects this, coming across as quite natural. Oderemi’s portrayal of Kane especially exuded ease and confidence, even as the character’s underlying insecurities and violent temper came to the surface.
This is not to say that the play is especially understated though. The tensions and stakes of Renee rose very quickly, with multiple attempts on the characters’ lives and extreme bumps in Manny and Renee’s relationship.
This combination of heightened, violent dramatic reality with modern, casual dialogue, as well as the play’s sub-hour runtime being similar in length to an episode of a TV drama, made for an exhilarating and accessible experience.
Akhidenor’s performance in the title role of Renee certainly justified her central place in the play, as she chewed up the scenery in her many screaming fights with Manny and displayed a certain looseness and excitability that made the character the emotional heart of the story.
Akintokun as Manny also did well, but in a more reserved way, embodying his character’s tightly wound, stressed-out state with just the right level of uncomfortableness.
As far as the future goes, Osodo is considering staging the play again for the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival and looking at a possible slot at Winnipeg’s Gargoyle Theatre, which specializes in locally written material. But what he is really looking forward to is writing his next play.
“In the process of writing and directing and working with more people, I’ve learned a lot and I know that there’s more to be done.”