Monthly Archives: January 2019

Two storytellers facing forwards

KaldrSaga: stories and storytellers

It’s a Norse-inspired start to the dark and cold of the theatre year – from the chanting and thread-spinning witches of the Malachite Theatre production of the Scottish play being reminiscent of the Norns who control destinies in Norse mythology, to a more explicit tribute to the gods, goddesses, and other beings of the traditions in Harley Morison’s new work KaldrSaga: A Queer Tavern Drama for a Midwinter’s Night, playing at The Almanac until Jan 26th.

Nasra Adem and Jake Tkaczyk play storytelling friends Saga and Kaldr, who meet once a year at a pub midway between their homes, to tell stories together and drink and catch up.  And Saga and Kaldr then play the characters in the stories they’re telling, stories from their own history (that include encounters with gods and goddesses, giants, a magpie named Pica, and other beings), and stories of the gods.  I don’t know a lot about Norse mythology (and I’d know even less if it weren’t for the Marvel Cinematic Universe reminding me about Thor and Loki, Asgard and Midgard and Bifröst.) but it didn’t really matter – it’s just a bonus to enjoying the stories that now I can look up the names I can remember – Kvasir, Mosey/Mothi, Sif, Freya.

Sometimes it appeared that the stories were part of a familiar repertoire and we saw the storytellers negotiating as part of clarifying how the game worked.  (“You started this one without me?” “I don’t want to do this one!” “The word fuckboy was not in my mother’s vocabulary!”)  Off the top, the first character to enter endowed the audience with being the pub audience waiting for stories – and this was easy, in the narrow back room of The Almanac with the performers moving back and forth between their tables and their bar (staffed during performance by their stage manager), and the audience seated along the opposite wall.  In telling the stories, they often shifted between characters, sometimes each of them taking a turn with a character as the narrative needed, using common physicality and voice to keep the continuity (like Jamie Cavanagh and Chris Cook in 3…2…1 or like Jim Libby and Jacob Banigan of Rocket Sugar Improv).  This was almost always easy to follow with their shifts of voice and physicality, and sometimes also delightful (the cats pulling Freya’s chariot, and then Freya driving the chariot).

The storytellers told the stories of how they’d met and how they’d come to be travelling.  We learned that they both identified as queer, and that they were both finding better lives on the road than the ones expected by their parents and in their home villages.  We learned how they got to be good storytellers (a deity is involved).  Kaldr, who’s left his home village because of taunts about being gay, seeks out Lofn, the goddess of forbidden love, in hopes she can make things right.  “I’m just like a marriage commissioner” she shrugs, “changing someone’s mind is harder.  For that, you need an army.”

They also told stories of the gods, often with an emphasis on queerness.  There’s a really great sequence at drag-queen open-mic night (including an original song composed by Rebecca Merkley and choreography by C.J. Rowein) And there’s a hopeful twist on how they get the aforementioned army for changing minds.

Near the end, there’s a bit that made my seat-mate and me both shiver with apprehension about what we thought was coming next … but then it didn’t seem to happen the way we were expecting, and we weren’t sure afterwards if it was just a more subtle version of the destiny hinted at, or if the more-open-ended finish suggested they were avoiding that destiny … we didn’t know, but we were both engaged with what would happen to these two likeable characters, Kaldr and Saga.

The play was a great opportunity for the actors to show us many different characters and make them distinct and interesting.  Nasra Adem is a former youth poet laureate of Edmonton.  Their storytelling benefited from the rhythms and style of their spoken-word performance, and it was great to watch their characters bantering and calling-out with joyful confidence.  Jake Tkaczyk’s acting roles have included Caliban in The Tempest, Lady Laura Lee the mysterious bridal shop owner in Don’t Frown at the Gown, a western sidekick of Pretty Boy Floyd the early 20th-century bank robber, and a badly-behaved young teenager in Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant…Ever, and in KaldrSaga he created some very different characters.  One of my favourite stories was the one where a travelling carver/artist (Adem) barters with a hostile tavern owner (Tkaczyk), one carved chess piece for food and lodging.  Elise Jason was production designer – without making many changes in the bar venue, they used a few simple touches to set us into the pub of mythic storytelling, with the characters’ costumes just slightly set apart from the current norms by a bit more fur and a few more weapons.

I also loved the insertions of current cultural references (Beyoncé, Grindr, a god having not only subjects but “followers”) and cellphone use.

Tickets are available through the Cardiac Theatre website for performances to January 26th, including two performances today (Saturday Jan 12th) at 4 pm and 8 pm.

The Malachites’ Macbeth

I think I’ve probably seen more productions of the Scottish play than of any other Shakespeare play.  At Stratford I saw Maggie Smith play Lady Macbeth, and in a later Stratford production the handwashing scene was played on a starkly-lit stage covered with a large piece of white cloth that the Lady scrunched up in turmoil as she tried to erase the consequences of their actions.  I saw a production at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in which the young lead couple had sizzling chemistry, a Theatre Prospero version at the Thousand Faces Festival with Bobbi Goddard playing the Lady and Elliot James playing the title role, and Reneltta Arluk’s Cree adaptation Pawâkan Macbeth, in which the stakes are raised by making Kâwanihot Iskwew (the Lady Macbeth analogue) pregnant and in which Macikosisân (Macbeth) is drawn further into evil as he is possessed by the cannibal spirit Wihtiko.

Last night I saw the Malachite Theatre Collective version at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (playing until Jan 19th, tickets on EventBrite).  It was good and some things about it were great.  Directing choices by Benjamin Blyth had the witches (Monica Maddaford, Jaimi Reese, Kaleigh Richards) pacing near-silently up and down the aisles of the church observing and compelling the action, quietly keening and hissing and breathing like Darth Vader.  They also worked on a spinning wheel, and made a sort of cat’s-cradle with threads to wind up their charms.  Janine Waddell’s fight choreography included a splendid bit where young Fleance (Anna MacAuley) fights off the assassins using some credible martial-arts-type moves.  Banquo (Colin Matty) and Macduff (Sam Jeffrey) were both good, and the Banquo’s-ghost staging was disturbing.

Macbeth (Byron Martin)’s decay in the second half of the play was illustrated by his slumping on a throne too big for him.  I had some difficulty hearing/understanding him, both when he was shouting in this scene and near the start when he is speaking to the witches, to Duncan, and to his allies.   I also struggled to hear a couple of other characters speaking while facing away from the audience and into the choirloft space of the venue.  Lady Macbeth is played by Malachites’ principal Danielle LaRose.  She also directed/designed the music, eerie chanting, drumming, and Norse/Gaelic soundscapes which made hair-raising use of the acoustic properties of the venue space.   I liked the way that Lady Macbeth paced silently with her lantern through several scenes before the doctor and gentlewoman discussed her new tendency to sleepwalk.  I also liked seeing Macduff and Malcolm (Owen Bishop) play chess through what is sometimes a boring exposition of the state of the conflicts.  This production also did a good job of the heart-wrenchingly poignant scene where Lady Macduff (Monica Maddaford) and her child (in this case a daughter, Anna MacAuley) enjoy playful sass while the audience knows the assassins are coming.   Other actors for this production included Bob Greenwood, Dana Luebke, Brennan Campbell, Brann Munro, Naomi Aerlan, and Marie Boston – a big enough company to create the sensation of being surrounded when the soldiers march up the echoing wooden floors between audience pews.  There were a few places where I was confused about who the characters were, trying to figure out if they were double-cast.

Sarah Karpyshin’s set makes good use of the shape and existing furniture of the Holy Trinity sanctuary space, with one brilliant gun-on-the-mantle touch which I will not spoil.   Costumes (Dana Luebke) were simple, fighters in tunics and fur leggings and cloaks, women in simple robes, English soldiers in mail coifs and St George’s Cross tabards familiar from this company’s production of Henry V.

I usually have a hard time being convinced of the title character’s relatively quick transitions in this story from modesty to ambition to desperation, and this production was no exception.  If I went to see it again (I probably don’t have time), I would try to sit closer to the front and listen/watch closely in the early scenes.

If you have time and you like Shakespeare, or sword-and-dagger fighting, or stories of ambition and temptation and everything going wrong, then you should see Macbeth.

Christmas pleasures

It’s almost Epiphany, time for me to throw out the leftover turkey, finish the chocolate and mince tarts, unplug the tree, and get back to rehearsing and watching theatre.

But first, I want to tell you about two Christmas-ish theatre productions.  This year I didn’t see Christmas Carol, Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant, or Nutcracker Suite.  You probably already know what they’re like, though.

The panto is a Christmas tradition in England and other parts of the UK, and Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton Park has been presenting a pantomime around Christmas for five years now.  It’s one of the few theatre productions in town that has a performances on Christmas Eve (a matinee) and between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, so I always like going to it while the rest of my schedule is on pause.

This year’s production of Red Riding Hood was written and directed by Dana Anderson, and featured Madelaine Knight (as Red), Jeff Halaby (as Red’s mother and grandma as well as some other characters), Aaron Macri (on-stage DJ), Melissa MacPherson in various roles, and Davina Stewart as a wonderful Big Bad Wolf villain.  It was lots of fun, with clever topical humour (the beach-boy from Accidental Beach especially) and enthusiastic audiences.

The other play I saw before Christmas was about Christmas traditions, about an engaged couple first discovering their mismatched preferences and trying to figure out how to be happy and together despite them.  Conni Massing was the writer of Oh! Christmas Tree and Brian Deedrick directed the co-production by Blunt Entertainment and Theatre of the New Heart.  Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle were perfectly cast, she embracing her overbearing Swedish family’s traditions and he preferring to avoid the whole thing.  They alternated scenes in front of a curtain (outdoors, and talking to an unseen clergyman at premarital counselling) with pulling back the curtain to reveal a living room which was decorated differently every time.  (I was impressed with the running crew!)  The ending was happy without being glib, and felt fair to me.