Tag Archives: alison yanota

Three characters drink mimosas at brunch.

Teatro Returns with Caribbean Muskrat

Cast of Caribbean Muskrat: Rochelle Laplante, Rachel Bowron, Jackson Card @alwaysepicphotos

Teatro de Quindicina, the summer-season professional theatre at the Varscona specializing in the work of Stewart Lemoine, hasn’t had a season since 2019. I remember their last production “before”, the complicated and wacky Vidalia, involving three identical briefcases and a very big onion.

In 2022, they’re starting the season a bit earlier than usual, with Stewart Lemoine and Josh Dean’s Caribbean Muskrat, originally performed here in 2004. I love that Lemoine has such a lengthy back catalogue, because they often produce works that other people remember favourably but I haven’t seen before. Stewart Lemoine directed, Madeline Blondal designed the set conveying multiple locations with a few clever pieces, Alison Yanota designed the lighting, and Leona Brausen did the costume design.

Caribbean Muskrat has many of the common features of a Stewart Lemoine play. So a subscriber or occasional attendee could have a rough idea of what to expect, but could still be completely surprised by the plot and characters on stage.

The unique characters in this play include Dr Hadrien Burch (Jackson Card), an oddly-smug sleep clinician, his girlfriend (previously his patient) Cynthia Lodgepole, an ambitious restaurant owner/manager (yes, restaurateur and restaurateuse are the correct spelling) (Rachel Bowron), and Bess Wesley a Canada Customs official in charge of animal imports (Rochelle Laplante, most recently seen in Citadel’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong).

The unexpected plot starts with a rare rodent, the Caribbean muskrat, which Cynthia acquired when attending a resort time-share pitch in Bimini, and which is now being held at the local Customs office. While we don’t actually see most of the animals in the office (a dolly stacked high with travel crates and ventilated boxes emitting mysterious noises), the one we do see is handled so well that I had to look away and then look again to reassure myself it wasn’t real. The three characters’ lives intersect because of the muskrat. Various complications develop and the story takes several turns I didn’t predict.

Similar to many other Stewart Lemoine plays, Caribbean Muskrat includes specific details about a location which are funny to people who know the place while contributing to worldbuilding for those who don’t know it well. In this case, the play is set in Kelowna BC, so there was wine-tasting, side comments about the nearby community of Peachland, and an Ogopogo joke.

As I started to watch this play, I recalled another characteristic of the Teatro oeuvre that I’d forgotten, and I still don’t quite know what to call it. It’s not quite magical realism, but it’s just a few steps away from probability into a context where unlikely coincidences happen and are accepted. The odd things that happen in this story aren’t unlikely enough to pull me out of the story, but they are delightfully unexpected enough to pull me in. And I’ve missed that.

Caribbean Muskrat runs at the Varscona Theatre until April 17th. Tickets are available through the Varscona Theatre website as well as at the box office on show nights.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921

Northern Light Theatre’s season starts off with a conflagration, at the Varscona Theatre, with Linda Wood Edwards’ play The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, directed by Trevor Schmidt. Sue Huff plays Mrs. Hastings and Twilla Macleod plays Mrs. Smith, both independent businesswomen in the small Central Alberta mining town of Big Valley. The social distance between them is large, as the blunt joyful pragmatic Hastings runs a whorehouse and Smith, a devotee of Queen Victoria and of propriety, runs a boardinghouse for unwed pregnant girls/women and helps to place their children for adoption. The costumes (production designer Alison Yanota) emphasize their differences, with Hastings in flamboyant reds and flapper style, and Smith in cool buttoned-up floorlength blues. Although both of them operate business/social enterprises dependent on men for their existence, the interactions between these two women and descriptions of offstage characters and action pass the Bechdel-Wallace test easily (“do two women have a conversation that is not about a man?”)

Productions of Northern Light Theatre often keep me guessing a bit about their genre or mood, which makes them more interesting to me than a more predictable play. As you might expect, the two characters start out hostile to each other and full of assumptions based on past hurts, but later find some similarities in their grief and in their ambitions. The funniest part is … something I’m not going to spoil, but the advice about avoiding unnecessary clothing repairs. It’s not a tidy ending, but it’s a satisfying one, leaving me thinking about middle-aged women making their own way and starting over, and about the harm done by mistrust and prejudice among groups of women.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921 runs to Sunday November 28, with tickets available for digital viewing as well as in-person performance under the Restrictions Exemption Program. The Varscona Theatre is a large auditorium and audience members are asked to leave space between each party. The concession and washrooms are open. Running time is a bit under 70 minutes.

The next play I’ll be watching is the one I’m directing now, Walterdale Theatre’s 5@50 – another look at women in middle age, how they can support each other and how they can wound each other. Tickets are available at the link.