The Garneau Block: Local, timely, and delightful!

Video is not typically ephemeral, but this one is.  If you’re intrigued by my description, check it out before tomorrow, May 3rd, at noon MDT.  That’s … hmm … 15 hours from now.  If I type fast.

The Garneau Block Act 1  #CanadaPerforms

I have a ticket on the shelf by my keys, for the first ticketed performance of The Garneau Block at the Citadel Theatre, on Saturday March 14th.  I didn’t get to use the ticket because the performance was cancelled sometime after the previous night’s dress rehearsal, that week when the theatres all went dark.

I’m always excited about Citadel new work, but I was especially looking forward to this one.  Shortly after I moved to Edmonton I borrowed Todd Babiak’s newish (2006) novel The Garneau Block from the Strathcona Branch library.  Like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, it was originally a series of affectionate and funny newspaper columns about characters in a fictionalized neighbourhood – only he was writing about a neighbourhood I rode my bike through every day en route to work.  Just like Janice MacDonald’s mystery novels and Gayleen Froese’s Grayling Cross, Babiak’s novel affirmed my sense of belonging here, because the setting and the people felt so familiar.

When I heard that Belinda Cornish was adapting the novel for the stage, I decided not to re-read it.  I didn’t remember much about the novel, and I wanted to enjoy the play for itself.

With support from the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms program, the Citadel did a live Zoom reading of Act 1 the other night, and it’s on Youtube until tomorrow morning.  And it’s great.

I almost don’t want to read the novel again and find out how many of the timely quips about the mixed-gentrifying neighbourhood near the university were in the original work and how many were from Cornish’s clever observation.   But there are a lot! I recognized trends, local businesses, and even a subtle reference to the Make Something Edmonton campaign that Babiak inspired as Magpietown around 2012.  There are no overt big-picture provincial or world politics in the characters’ concerns but it could easily have been last summer.

The casting and characterization were so good.  Julian Arnold as a philosophy professor who thinks he understands #MeToo.  Stephanie Wolfe being performatively-woke but excruciatingly uncomfortable seeing an indigenous homeless person (Ryan Cunningham).  Andrew Kushnir as theatre artist Jonas Pond, friend to Madison (Rachel Bowron).  It was lovely to have a gay character who wasn’t a flamboyant caricature.  Nadien Chu, Alana Hawley Purvis, Shawn Ahmad, George Szilagyi – the characters were all familiar but not completely predictable.  By the end of Act 1 some things were explained and some were hinted at, and I am so impatient to see where the story goes after this.

During this time of social distancing, I’ve been fortunate to participate in some on-line script reading.   From that experience, I can say that this on-line distanced presentation was very well done.  The necessary props were managed smoothly – there was even a small dog on screen! – and everyone was audible with good lighting and background.  The stage directions were read by director Rachel Peake.  She mentions at the end that the set (Narda McCarroll), costumes (Joanna Yu) and sound design (Matthew Skopyk) are waiting at the Maclab Theatre for rescheduled performances as soon as they can open their big wooden doors again.

But for right now – and for free! – you can enjoy Act 1.  Do it.

 

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