Arts

Personal play focuses on coming to terms with the past

Photo: Courtesy of Craig Conoley

People often compare themselves to animals that they believe they resemble in some way. Dogs are one animal that people gravitate to for their loyalty. Others choose the fox, for its sly nature, or the lion, for its pride and power. In Confessions of a Modern Day Penguin, it’s a much less popular animal that Daniel Mark Patterson chooses to compare himself to—the penguin.

Confessions of a Modern Day Penguin is a play about a man who has a difficult time finding his path in the modern-day world. Patterson, a local actor, poet, and playwright, plays a character based on himself in the part-memoir, and collaborated with University of Ottawa PhD student Golbon Moltaji on the project.

Inspired by true happenings in Patterson’s life, the play deals with themes of sexuality, gender binaries, love, and abuse, with undertones of religion and the strings that tie all of these things together. The play was shown at Lamoureux Hall at the U of O from Sept. 23 to 27.

The play, which was performed in a classroom, begins with a professor, played by Moltaji, listing facts about penguins. Throughout the show, the audience is shown the similarities between the androgynous and awkward, yet adorable, penguin and Patterson’s character.

“(Penguins) stumble and fumble around, and have the hardest time getting anything right,” Patterson said after the performance. “I kind of see myself stumbling and fumbling around in my search for love and finding my place… I see myself as a penguin in that sense.”

At once beautiful and despairing, this play illustrates Patterson’s life through his own poetry and interpretative dance choreographed by Moltaji. Moltaji is not a trained dancer, but used her background as an athlete to inspire her dance movements. Although the production was originally meant to be a one-man show, Moltaji asked Patterson if she could join it after reading the original script, and the two expanded it to include Moltaji in multiple roles.

Moltaji, who had no prior acting experience, blew the audience away with her powerful portrayal of Patterson’s past lovers, musings, friends, and mother.

The story follows Patterson’s abusive domestic life as a young boy and develops into his struggles with conforming to gender stereotypes as a grown man. The show demonstrates different challenges Patterson faces resulting from these experiences, from the guilt he feels for loving his abusive father to the struggle he has understanding love and intimacy beyond its physical definition.

Much of the play is adapted from personal poems that Patterson has written over the past four years. He used these poems to create a fluid storyline that pulled the audience in and gave them a window through which to view and relate to his troubled past.

While the play has its darker moments, it counteracts the heaviness with bouts of comedic relief and witty dialogue. Patterson’s writing along with Moltaji’s choreography makes for a powerful, raw, and refreshing performance.