Tag Archives: ashley wright

Sweat, at the Citadel

I’m at work the other day putting on high-visibility coveralls and safety boots.  And it occurs to me, I saw that on stage last night, middle-aged women matter-of-factly wearing Carhartt work trousers and boots for work without it being a joke or even worthy of comment.  And I have never seen that on stage before.

When I went to see the Citadel’s production of Sweat, the Lynn Nottage drama directed by Valerie Planche, I had not realized that the main characters, the group of co-worker/ friends disrupted when one gets promoted, were going to be women (Marci T. House, Nicole St Martin, Lora Brovold).  This confused me a bit, and then I felt a little silly, for assuming that I’d be seeing another story of men as blue-collar workers and family providers, a trope I’d accepted since childhood viewings of Archie Bunker and Fred Flintstone.  Instead, the script showed three women as the group of friends who had been working “on the line” their whole careers, expecting they’d do so until retirement.

Two of them have young-adult sons also starting their working lives at the mill, played by Andrew Creightney and Chris W Cook.  Their aspirations to work in the mill or to get away from it reminded me of conversations among people I knew when we were teenagers in a mill town.  Chris Cook is so good at portraying dead-end characters I pull for and despair for and want to shake, characters whose naivete or lack of judgement or short-sighted well-intentioned impulses lead them into big trouble.  As soon as I saw his character on stage this time (and in fact, before I recognized the actor), I was internally groaning, oh, NO, you DIDN’T. His friend Chris (Andrew Creightney) has a plan to start studying at the local community college after a summer of saving his mill-work wages, looking beyond the neighbourhood and the mill even before his mother gets promoted and sees a different future for herself.  That it doesn’t work out as well as they dream is the Steinbeck-worthy gut punch.  But this one is happening in times I remember and in places like ones I know.  Oof.  Voice-over headlines read out between scenes show us some of the bigger context, the economic and political happenings over the year 2000 that might be affecting lives in a place like Pittsburgh, and allow jumps forward in time to 2008 to show the outcomes of some of those news items and of the characters’ responses.

The script is subtle, with the outcomes not entirely predictable despite the foreshadowing, and offering some hope and humanity.  Ashley Wright plays the manager of the bar where most of the action happens, Alen Dominguez his employee, and Anthony Santiago the ex-husband of Marci House’s character Cynthia.  I appreciated the understated acknowledgements of how race and gender matter, particularly in the speech where Cynthia talks about how there is more at stake for her, applying for the supervisory position and getting it, because she is female and African-American.  The vague offstage threat of the employers looking to replace everyone with immigrant workers for less money is made immediate and personal when the other characters (and the audience) realize that Oscar (Dominguez), who has been shuffling through the bar bussing tables and cleaning up, is an immigrant whose life would be improved by getting low-paying non-union factory work.

The one thing that I was a little dissatisfied with was that I wanted to find out more about what happened to Lora Brovold’s character Jessie, but maybe that is just because I appreciate the actor’s work.

Sweat is still making me think.  It is playing at the Citadel until February 3rd.

Busy stages at the end of November

What a busy couple of weeks it is for Edmonton stages!  If your weekend isn’t already full, there’s lots of theatre to watch, with these four shows all closing this weekend.

Fen, by Caryl Churchill, is playing at the Varscona Theatre until Sunday.  Amy De Felice’s Trunk Theatre production is fascinatingly atmospheric.  The trapped and oppressed lives of farm-workers in the cold drizzly fen country of England were portrayed with compelling credibility.  I looked at the women picking potatoes in ill-fitting gloves, on their knees on a cold day, and I remembered what it was like to be tying grapes in March, saying to myself that the money would get me out of here, the money would take me to university, I would never need to do this again.   Most of the people in the play don’t have any realistic hopes for escaping their lives, and their unrealistic hopes are heartbreaking.  Even the children in the story are joyless, trapped and powerless and sometimes abused (I found those scenes the most upsetting of the whole play, but not by a lot).  It is unusual to see a farm story about women’s lives not be a story of land-owning families.  But in this story, most of the women (Ellen Chorley, Monica Maddaford, Miranda Allen, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer) are employed as day labourers or crew foremen, and the men (all played by Cody Porter) include a labourer and a landowner who sells his land to a corporation and becomes a tenant.    The story reminded me a lot of the subgenre of Canadian literature about homestead isolation and despair.

Another hard important story to watch is on stage at the Backstage theatre behind the Arts Barns.  Guys in Disguise / Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre is premiering a rewrite of Darrin Hagen’s Witchhunt at the Strand.  Set in Edmonton in 1942 or so, the story is based on primary source material about criminal trials for homosexual behaviour.  Jesse Gervais, Mat Hulshof, Doug Mertz, and Davina Stewart each play lawyers and police officers as well as the men caught up in the witchhunt and their friends and partners.  The scene where one of Hulshof’s young characters is on the stand being questioned in horribly intrusive detail about a sexual encounter was one of the most uncomfortable things I have witnessed in ages.  The main characters in the story were all involved in the Edmonton theatre scene, including Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, in whose honour the Sterling Awards are named.  Mrs Haynes is shown as what would nowadays be called an ally to the LGBT community.  I cannot imagine how the 1940s attitudes of privacy and discretion would have discouraged her choice to be a character witness for her theatrical colleague in a morals case, and I found the character as written very sympathetic.

Witchhunt at the Strand made me very grateful that I grew up mostly after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had said “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation” and decriminalized same-sex sexual behaviours.  It also made me think about how I had been influenced as a child by the grownups around me who remembered the era of the play, not all of whom were straight.  And it made me cry.

Anxiety is a Theatre Yes co-production with several small theatre companies, brand new and unexpected and … and they asked the viewers not to post about it.  If that intrigues you, check whether they have any tickets left this weekend.

Twelfth Night is much funnier and easier to watch.  It’s playing until Saturday night at the Timms Centre.  Ashley Wright, an MFA directing candidate, directs a version with simple staging and a framework of watching a company of travelling players arrive at the theatre, warm up in their underthings, and get into costume.  Julien Arnold, Dave Clarke, Jaimi Reese, and Jake Tkaczyk play the broad-comedy roles of the script, with Reese as Olivia’s mischief-making gentlewoman companion, Arnold and Tkaczyk as the partying uncle Sir Toby Belch and his awkward trying-too-hard sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Clarke in a variety of clownish roles.  Clarke also created and performed interesting songs and underscoring for the production.  Contrast with the fun-loving quartet comes from Malvolio (Alex Dawkins), Olivia’s dour steward, whose pride makes him vulnerable to one of the most memorable practical jokes in the history of the stage.  Did he get what he deserved?  Or was it unfair that he was bullied and apparently driven mad, with the pranksters getting away with it?  I can’t decide.  Watching Malvolio try to smile and gesture as he expects his mistress wants is kind of painful, but it’s also very very funny.

Look-alike twins Viola and Sebastian are played by Chayla Day and Jordan Buhat.  Day’s physicality readily conveys a woman who is inexperienced at passing as a man.  Marc Ludwig is lovesick Orsino, courting Olivia (Emily Howard) who wants nothing to do with him, using her dead father and brother as an excuse until she is captivated by Orsino’s new pageboy Cesario (actually Viola).  Olivia’s reactions to Cesario are delightful, and her discovery that her crush is actually a woman is particularly so.