Already this theatre season, several great productions have been seen on Edmonton stages. The Colour Purple at the Citadel was a powerful tale of resilience, with really great music and an inspiring performance from Tara Jackson. Silent Sky at Walterdale was based on the true story of early-20th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. Teatro closed their summer season with Vidalia, which was confusing and ridiculous and very entertaining.
This week I was able to watch two performances with local roots and seasonal resonances, and I enjoyed both.
Dead Centre of Town XII is this year’s version of Catch the Keys Productions’ annual exploration of historical horror by Megan Dart and Beth Dart. This one is set at Mellon Farm, the 1920s-era farm property at Fort Edmonton Park. Attending the Hallowe’en event is one of your few chances to get a look at the Park while the renovations are continuing. The horrifying stories out of local history feel more intimate this year, with an audience of only 25 for each performance encountering the characters in the farmhouse and yard. Fans of previous Dead Centre of Town shows will recognize the hench/guides played by Colin Matty, Christine Lesiak, and Adam Keefe. Other characters and stories are unique to this year’s production, and there are other surprising and disturbing design elements. Dead Centre of Town XII plays until November 1st, tickets here. Wednesdays through Saturdays it’s part of the bigger Hallowe’en event Dark, and Tuesdays and Sundays you can experience it on its own.
I could tell you a lot more about it, but not without spoiling things – and in Dead Centre of Town, it’s better when unexpected.
E-Day, by Jason Chinn, opens tomorrow at Roxy on Gateway, a Roxy Performance Series offering by Serial Collective. I got to see a preview show last night. I try not to review previews because it seems not-quite-fair, but my calendar is quite busy this month and last night was my chance.
I loved it. And I cried. It was a little like Kat Sandler’s The Candidate / The Party, which were large-scale views of behind-the-political-scenes of a national leadership campaign and election. But it was more like 10 out of 12 by Anne Washburn, the peek into technical-rehearsal week at a theatre company which Theatre Network produced a few years ago. And for me it was … you know how Badlands Passion Play has the huge advantage of starting out with an evocative plot and characters that most of the audience not only knows but cares passionately about? Like, when I arrived on site, before I found my seat I looked around at the hills and saw the three crosses, and it took my breath away because I knew what was coming and it was going to be right there. Yeah, like that.
E-Day takes place during the 2015 provincial election campaign, from E-28 to E+1. The whole play is set in a campaign office for a local candidate, Candace Berlinguette (all the characters are named after the performers), who was unsuccessful in the 2012 election. With credit to set/costume designer Beyata Hackborn, it looked like any campaign office I’ve visited or volunteered in. The table of donated food, the phone bank of mismatched phones, the signs on the fridge, the beautiful coded maps, the coloured floor tiles and alphabet squares left over from the daycare previously in the space. Audience was seated on all four sides, and there was always lots to watch – the office manager in the corner (Amena Shehab), the teenagers on the phones (Asia Bowman and Shingai David Madawo), the comings and goings out the various doors and the mission-control of the voter contact organizer (Sheldon Elter) and his assistant (Kiana Woo). As in The Candidate/The Party, the candidate has a same-sex partner who has limited patience for the compromises of politics (Beth Graham).
What I loved about this play was twofold. First, the specifics felt so right. I had been a little disappointed in the Kat Sandler scripts being about an imaginary electoral system that resembled the American one, because I felt hungry to find humour and hope within our own Canadian system that I work within. (Like Michael Healey’s Proud, with its slightly-different-outcome of a real election, and the Parliamentary seating diagram with the red, blue, orange, and pale-blue post-its). But this one was so believable and so local in scope – everything I knew about election volunteering, about identifying supporters and pulling the vote, about why people volunteer and who runs a campaign – it all fit.
And in E-Day, it all mattered. Characters remind each other that the hard work and insight from the previous election loss are helping them run this campaign, and when they despair of winning this one, they repeat that every supporter gained this time makes things easier next time. Plot details are consistent with this. And in the middle of the discouragement, someone with a laptop whoops and they cluster around to the voiceover and music of the announcement that their party will be forming the government. And that was the other thing I loved – the message of long-term hope, that whether or not any particular campaign goes the way you want, it’s all worth it in the long term. And this week, I appreciated getting those reminders. They made me cry.
Dead Centre of Town tickets are here. Many of their shows sell out, so get yours early.
E-Day tickets are here.
I’m off to Banff for the Community Theatre Summit, which I’m sure will inspire me with theatre ideas and make me a better artist and board member. And when I come back, I want to see Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs, and Fight Night, and The Roommate, all opening soon on local stages.