Devour Content Here / Of Love and Wheat: dustbowl drama in the dust

After Fringe and the Fringe Holdovers  – I saw Edgar Allan and In Search of Cruise Control.  They were both good.  I’ll tell you about them soon if I have time – my theatre world was quiet enough that I almost ended up going to a movie last week because I was bored.

Fortunately, the performance season is starting up again.  Next weekend Rapid Fire Theatre has four shows and Kaleido Fest has lots of interesting things on the schedule and it’s the Edmonton Burlesque Festival.

And this weekend Kristine Nutting is directing an original production in an old warehouse near the stadium.  I think the play was called Devour Content Here and it contained a play called Of Love and Wheat – but I’m not sure.  It had many of the challenges typical to mounting a production in an unconventional venue and requiring the audience to rove about – difficult acoustics, limited lighting choices, having to wait for the audience to move between scenes and being restricted in how they direct audience traffic by trying to stay in character.  An additional challenge of this space is that it is quite dusty.  Some of the audience members wore the provided dust masks, but the performers and crew did not.  I saw it on opening night and again last night.  The second night they were much more explicitly directive about showing people where to sit and stand, and they admitted fewer people, which also helped.

David Arial played a Narrator, but by the end he seemed to be part of the plot as well, with suspect motives of his own.  Or maybe he was two characters.  The ostensible setting was prairie drought dustbowl in a small town in the 1920s, but it had some mythical and fantastic elements.  The story was a little hard to follow, but fortunately a lot of it was fairytale archetype – the manipulative ambitious mother Liliette (Sarah Ormandy) wanting to make an advantageous match for her daughter (Sydney Campbell) with a visiting tycoon (Nathan Plumite), the daughter falling in love with the sewage man’s son (Steven Andrews), stories of leaving home for a better life and not succeeding, people being blackmailed or forced or tricked into various unappetizing agreements, etc.

There was a large chorus of despairing townspeople in makeup/costume/demeanour that reminded me of both bouffon and zombies, and there was a live band playing original music.  There were unexpected bits of circus-aerials performance, there were some solo songs and there were a few ensemble songs.  There were crass moments, horribly disturbing moments, ridiculously overdone and tongue-in-cheek bits, and a scene that shifted from absurd to compellingly intimate at different moments for each audience member (meaning that some people were giggling while I was nearly in tears).   And there were characters who seemed to be struck by nausea every time the word “economics” was spoken.

I liked the way that the young couple Harriet and Oscar seemed to be realistic awkward young people, surrounded by weirder-than-life characters speaking in some heightened or poetic register.  I appreciated Sarah Ormandy’s portrayal of the ambitious mother and former Chatauqua beauty queen, her jerky movements a parody of grace and her self-absorbed behaviour reminiscent of Snow White’s stepmother. (Late in the play, I thought I heard another character call her Lilith, which fitted.)  The best part of the music was the melodic motif “Come on down to the dark soul of the dustbowl, It’s the blackest place on earth”.  Other parts of the instrumental and vocal music suffered from the acoustic difficulties of the venue. 

If this sounds like your kind of thing, if you like performances that try out things that might not work, if you would rather see something original than something tidy, there is one more show Labour Day afternoon.  Doors open at 2:30.  Admission is by donation (they suggest $20 for the gainfully employed and $10 otherwise).  They provide dust masks, and some buckets and crates for patrons who don’t want to stand the whole time, and I saw them make accommodations for mobility impaired patrons.

One thought on “Devour Content Here / Of Love and Wheat: dustbowl drama in the dust

  1. Pingback: Edmonton downstage | 09.07.2015 | After the House Lights

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