Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Invention of Romance

Workshop West’s spring production is Conni Massing’s The Invention of Romance, a three-handed story inspired by the playwright’s mother’s late-in-life romance with someone she’d acted in a play with in their youth.

Lora Brovold plays Kathleen (Kate), a jittery anxious museum curator in her “mid 30s”, who starts the story having boyfriend trouble and being fussed about a museum exhibit that she is curating, an exhibit about romance framed around an historical manuscript.  Valerie Ann Pearson plays her mother Louisa, over 70 and I think widowed (or did I just assume that?) with contrasting stillness.  Even when her world gets turned upside down with the possibility of new romance, she isn’t as rattled as her daughter is on a daily basis.

Kate occasionally addresses the audience, or sets up a podium and microphone to speak at a professional meeting.  We see more of her interior life and her professional life than we do of Louisa’s, but the playwright, director (Tracy Carroll), and actors have done a great job of showing that there is more to Louisa’s side of the story that we’re not seeing because Kate isn’t seeing it.  One of my favourite bits was when Louisa was working around to telling her daughter that things have escalated with Cliff, by mentioning the toaster he’d bought her at a auction sale so that she could make two pieces of toast at once, in case she has a guest at breakfast.  Kate of course takes far too long to catch on to what Louisa’s really saying, but the audience completely gets it, especially after Pearson starts rolling her eyes, having lost her initial awkwardness in the conversation in favour of irritation with her self-centred daughter.

The third actor in the play is Mat Busby, credited as Man.  I kept trying to figure out what I’d seen him in before, since he obviously has so many local acting credits that he can’t include all of them in his program bio.  Maybe he was in Die-Nasty last year?  His main role was as James, an awkward cardigan-wearing work collaborator of Kate, but he also played Louisa’s acting colleague in flashback, as well as the various men Kate encounters in her experiments with on-line dating.  We don’t really get to see Cliff, Louisa’s present-day suitor, although we do get a little bit of the humour of an awkward conversation between Kate and her mother’s date in a “talking to invisible man” vignette.

The play evoked thought as well as emotion.  As someone older than Kate and not as old as Louisa, I liked the idea of not being thought past it.  And I liked seeing how Louisa’s anxieties and uncertainties were easier to deal with than Kate’s.  Both of them were appealing characters, but the disagreements and misunderstandings between them were both universally familiar and specific to the characters.  I enjoyed the multiple references to Louisa having consulted with Kate’s older brothers before telling Kate something, and Kate the youngest getting annoyed about that.   I also enjoyed Kate’s line “Is it possible I’m not nearly as mysterious as I thought?” when her mother sees through her.

The simple set was fascinating to look at.  It appeared to be made up completely of IKEA EXPEDIT storage shelves and Staples-brand storage boxes.  The actors would pull props out of boxes or make them into furniture as needed.  And the set made me think about order and tidiness in life and the complications unseen.

The Invention of Romance continues at L’UniThéâtre until Sunday afternoon April 13th (next weekend).  It’s worth seeing.  On-line tickets are here.

Amazing things happened on the way to the Forum

This winter I have been helping with the Walterdale Theatre production of the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I’d never been involved with a large production or a Walterdale show before, and it’s been an amazingly educational and enriching experience for me.  I watched the directors and actors figure out the character arcs and stakes.  I watched the ensemble learn the choreography and marvelled at how well it fit the characters.   I learned to tape out a floor, to be “on book” for people learning lines, and to work out what props had to be where when.

There are so many aspects that have to fit together – so many skillsets that are all needed – so many creators and crafters and collaborators, all taking their jobs seriously but having a lot of fun making a very funny show.  Director and choreographer Adam Mazerolle-Kuss (current artistic director of the Walterdale) and the actors on the stage (eighteen of them!) have generated a set of appealing interesting characters who go through a funny story full of complicated twists and turns, with lots of opportunities for silliness, choreography, and memorable Sondheim songs.   I can’t pick a favourite character or favourite moment, because there are so many parts that make me laugh or smile every time (I don’t have favourite brothers or favourite students, either.  Even if some of them are reading here.)  Music director Brian Christensen and seven other talented musicians provide accompaniment.

During the rehearsal period, one of my favourite things about being ASM was getting to the theatre early and turning on some lights to see what delightful details had been added by the set builders and painters, designers and props master since the last time I was there.   And then the lighting effects began to be added in, and I don’t even know how that works but it became even more magical.

There is an apocryphal quotation about laws and sausages being products one should avoid seeing the production of.  I can tell you now that based on my experience on the crew of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, theatre is not like that at all.  The more I watched this show being built and helped to contribute to it, the more impressed I was with what we were creating, and the more I fell in love with theatre.  So I have two recommendations for you.  First, buy a ticket to Forum and come watch.  And second, if you like watching theatre, think about getting more involved.  Lots of theatre companies need volunteers for taking tickets and selling Twizzlers.  Community theatres like the Walterdale offer opportunities for involvement with productions.  Every theatre I know of needs money and needs word-of-mouth advertising of shows.  Take improv class! Take acting class! Take singing lessons!  Take dance lessons!  Try stand-up comedy!  Try storytelling!  Write a script and get it workshopped!  Edmonton has opportunities for adult novices to do all of the above.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opens Wednesday April 2nd and runs until Saturday April 12th, after a free preview for students with student ID on Tuesday April 1st (that’s today!).  Evening shows are at 8 pm, and the Sunday matinee is at 2 pm. You can get to the Walterdale Theatre easily on the #4 bus or park nearby (the pay lot for Strathcona Market always has space, but you might luck out with a nearer parking meter.  You can get tickets at Tix on the Square or at the door.

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Photo credits to Douglas Stewart.  On the left, Kelsey Visscher as Hysterium and Kyle Thulien as Pseudolus, on the right Jordan Ward as Senex.