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Friday, October 16, 2015

What is going on? Ravenscroft (Walterdale) and Les Blues des Oubliées (L'Uni Theatre)

This week I saw two very different plays.  One, Ravenscroft, was a mystery where the truth was slowly unraveled as lies and exaggerations were discarded.  The other, Les Blues des Oubliées, was a french-langueage play with sur-titles. So in both,I had to work hard to figure out what was going on!

Ravenscroft, currently running at Walterdale Theatre until October 24th, is a who-dun-it with a surprise twist at the end. Inspector Ruffing (Dan Fessenden) interrogates the 5 women of Ravenscroft Manor to try to discover exactly what happened the night the footman was killed.  It's a clever play with juicy characters set in an English Manor in the early 1900s.  I did the props for the show and due to my busy schedule this was first opportunity to see if the worked.  They did! It was great to see the show up on it's feet. The cast does a nice job creating the world and for me it was great to see 5 of the 6 cast members are newcomers to Walterdale. I also liked that they each were clearly defined characters - the beautiful and icy Governess, Marcy (Melanie Bahniuk); the silly and imaginative daughter of the house, Gillian (Sohpie Healey); the not-so-bright and clumsy housemaid, Dolly (Brittany Hinse); the stern and disciplined cook, Mrs. French (Rebecca Bissonnette); and the naughty but imperious Lady of the house, Mrs. Ravenscroft (Catherine Wenschlag). The whole cast works well together, but highlights are the hysterical and saucy Wenschlag and Bissonnette has some absolutely terrific dead-pan moments. They are all supported by a marvelous set (Leland Stelck) and to-die-for costumes (Geri Dittrich).  I was glad to see my few little props measure up.

Last night, I took in my first ever french language play,  Les Blues des Oubliées (The Blue of Forgetting), at L'Uni Theatre.  It was a very cool experience.  Like with Opera or Shakespeare, it took me a few minutes to adjust to reading the surtitles and adapting my brain to deal with the language differently than I do normally, but once I settled in, it was very interesting.  The play is more of a performed poem with dance and song, as a woman recalls her own life and the life of her grandmother.  One theme of the piece explores language as it comments on being a French speaker in Alberta, as well as how that language translates when visiting other French speaking provinces and countries.  That section was very meta for me, being an English speaker in the audience with all those layers of translation.  Other themes were motherhood, childbearing, religion, and culture.  It was non-linear and fragmented and beautifully augmented with projections and dance, as well as sound created by a live musician sitting amidst the audience.  Les Blues des Oubliées runs at La Cite until October 24th.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Teatro closes their season with warmth and humour in The Hot House Prince

I never know quite what to expect with Teatro la Quindicina.  That's a good thing.  I've learned to go into their shows with a spirit of "let's see what happens" because you never quite know what their show will be about.  The Hot House Prince was certainly that for me.  With references to Three Sisters (all played by the delightful and multi-faceted Kendra O'Connor) the play takes us to Russia during the revolution and a young Prince Dmitri Romanov-Orsk (Luc Tellier) must find a way to survive by fleeing the country.  It's a cautionary tale about entitlement and how that doesn't prepare us for the real world, but it tells it's story in a charming, humour-filled way. What saves Dmitri is his irrepressible hope and willingness to adapt and work hard.  The Hot House Prince left me feeling all warm inside!  The cast is terrific, led by the charming Tellier. I found the cast refreshing and engaging, and highlights for me were Jayce MacKenzie as Dmitri's doomed sister, and Evan Hall and Mari Chartier as the funny-speaking Canadians. Overall though, the cast was a tight ensemble that deftly created the crazy world that Dmitri must negotiate.

The Hot House Prince runs until October 17th at the Backstage Theatre.

Reflections on Bone Cage, Theatre Yes...

I admit it. I had reservations about Bone Cage before I saw it. This was heightened when I read the Director's Notes which indicted the Oil Sands industry and it's toxic sludge of tailings ponds and the suggestion that if we really thought about what we were doing to make a living we would be sickened by it.  I've heard that rhetoric before and having spent most of my life in Fort McMurray I couldn't help but bristle a bit, but I was determined to view the play with an open mind.

I was expecting a rhetoric laden piece about the environment, with blame laid here and there... but that's not what I saw.  Instead, I didn't see much of the environmental message earned. It was there, but it felt pasted on as a convenient scapegoat for the unhappiness of the people in the play. What played out was that these people were screwed up because of past tragedies - a lost son/brother, a wayward mother, a missing father, bad parenting, poor choices in school, or general immaturity. Do people stay in jobs that they don't like because of the money - yes - but people do that all the time. I know former teacher colleagues who I could tell hated teaching, but they would never leave the field because the money was good. I know friends who don't leave jobs they dislike (because they have no passion for it) because they are scared of not knowing what else is out there. This is not something unique to resource industries.  I think Jaime, played with intensity by Neil Kuefler, tries to blame the work for his unhappiness, but he'd still be destroying ecosystems if he got his dream job in B.C. He'd just thinks he'd be happier if he was piloting a helicopter.  It is not the environment he cares for. He just wants something outside himself to blame for why he's unhappy, but really he has a myriad of things to blame for that.  With all the characters, the solution would be to take responsibility and change themselves, but no one seems to keen to actually do that. Their personal inaction and lack of true communication with each other gets somewhat irritating.  Why don't they just leave? I don't know how many times I asked myself that question...