A Two Show Day - Am I Crazy? The Missionary Position and Private Lives...

If you try hard enough, you can do this.  I managed to see two shows today by hitting the matinee of The Missionary Position at the University of Alberta Timm's Centre and then going to the evening performance of Private Lives at The Citadel.  They are two very different pieces of theatre so separating thought about them was not that difficult.

The Missionary Position is a new work by Lee Playwright in Residence, Greg MacArthur, written specifically for the 2013 graduating BFA Class.  I found it a thought provoking cautionary tale supported by strong acting and a creative set and lighting design. It deals with a fictional group of Christian missionaries who travel to an unnamed South American country that has been struck by devastation in the form of an earthquake and tsunami.  The missionaries are there to bring God to the orphans and save them both physically and spiritually.  Unfortunately their journey takes a terrible turn and they are imprisoned and charged - what will happen to them, and what exactly did they do are the chief questions to be answered.  There's plenty to engage us, perhaps too much, as the playwright had to write compelling characters for the class of 12, so that some of the sub-stories seem almost distracting.  Central is the idea those who think that faith in God will guide them to do good works are often misguided and naive. Unfortunately most of those who say they are going to do God's work are revealed to be quite shallow and certainly not as selfless as they initially proclaim.  It is this aspect that bothered me most about the play.  There are no truly likable people, with the exception of Angie (Angelique Panther), the translator girlfriend of the investigating Canadian Embassy worker (Ben Gorodetsky) who is the only one who really seems invested in true giving of self.  This is not to say that the performances are not entertaining, as I laughed heartily at the trio of Daniel Fernandes, Cayley Thomas  and Patricia Cerda who play a trio of Christian Television performers and Edmund Stapleton as the Tae-bo obsessed non-Christian adventurer.  But the collective group didn't really feel like real people which made it hard to empathize with them when it all goes wrong. I have friends who are very active and engaged Christians who have done missionary work and although I do not share their faith, I never saw them as shallow and narcissistic or so incredibly naive and stupid.  I just wished for one person in the group that I could feel was truly there for the right reasons and there wasn't.  Outside that group, Gorodetsky's journey is perhaps the most interesting to watch as he shifts from unquestioning support, to fascination and obsession and then finally to condemnation.  He does have, however, a strange unnecessary shower scene that I think is there to show off the fantastic water effects - but I would have been totally cool if that was a surprise for the end. Strangely, it is the slick talking Nacho (Mat Simpson) who feels the most consistently real of all the characters.  It is not hard to see how he might swindle this gang of naive chumps, nor are we surprised when he turns out to be much worse than he appears on the surface.  It made for a thought-filled afternoon of theatre (and after) and I recommend despite my criticisms.  It is more the wish that some of those character's stories could be more fleshed out to make them more real, but the constraints of show length and the question of what story it wants to tell does not allow for that.

It was a major shift to the evening's performance of Private Lives. This is not a deep piece - but a hilarious romp in the world of Noel Coward.  I have never seen the play before, despite it's popularity, and had a good time laughing at the dry wit of Coward as delivered by divorced couple Elyot (John Ullyatt) and Amanda (Diana Donnelly).  Ullyatt and Donnelly have a true chemistry and their verbal and physical sparring is note-perfect.  The script is a little dated, but in keeping the period so sharp right down to the Picasso on the wall, the production overcomes the inherent dangers.  There was a gasp of shock at the first slap, but the fight quickly turns so comical that that 2013 sensibility of what it means when there is physical violence between a man and a women can be diffused. I was blown away (as was my mother) with the outstanding effects in the Second Act.  It leaves you in a bit of a gasping shock and I give kudos to the production team and stage management for creating true magic. Although a traditional piece, it's a great show that I think anyone would be hard pressed not to laugh at, and it looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous so special mention to Leslie Frankish for her Set and Costume design and Joel Crichton for the Sound design.


Hakuna Matata said…
That was very interesting post and I want to read it now for it was all about the hardship of every missionary.

Thanks and God Bless!

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