It was going to be three. I was planning to get to One Flea Spare this afternoon, the Trunk Theatre production about people quarantined during a bubonic plague, but that didn’t end up happening. Colin MacLean’s review of that show is here.
So the two shows I saw this weekend were Bears and The Laws of Thermodynamics. Both of them were set around some kind of environmental disaster which wasn’t quite explained. In Bears, it was a current or very-near-future setting, not too far from here, with oil spills and watershed damage and other familiar real or realistic problems. In Laws of Thermodynamics, it was … pretty much the opposite of all that. Can you say “magical realism” in an end-of-the-world story? Nothing is explained about why the world seems to be ending, or why it is ending the way it is, and some of the things that happen really don’t fit current models of physics. Oh, but while I’m thinking of it, there’s some magical-realism to the story of Bears too, it’s just not about the setting.
Bears is a new show written by Matthew Mackenzie, who wrote Sia. Its short run at the PCL theatre had several sold-out houses. It was produced by Pyretic Productions, with Patrick Lundeen credited as “Consulting Director”. Sheldon Elter narrates the story, in the odd format of a third person narrative about Floyd while he seems to be portraying Floyd himself. It is as if he is standing outside the person to whom the events happened, leaving it unclear whether he is actually still that person. And that is probably not an accident. As the story starts, Floyd is an oilpatch worker who is fleeing arrest for some kind of sabotage, heading west to the mountains and recounting memories of growing up with his Kokum (Cree for Grandma) picking berries, dancing at pow-wows, and watching the stars. On his journey, he slips gradually from the man-made world of highways and diners to the natural world of the foothills and mountains, but continues to encounter evidence of human destruction such as dead animals, clearcutting, and avalanche. He also experiences many delightful natural phenomena – butterflies, chickadees, salmon, berries, and alpine-meadow flowers.
While Elter narrates the story actively as Floyd, stomping about the stage in high-visibility coveralls and work boots, he is backed up by a chorus of dance/movement artists (Alida Nyquist-Schultz, Krista Posyniak, Kate Stashko, Anastasia Maywood, Aimee Rushton) They added visual interest and emotional intensity, with movements that were sometimes representational (I loved the churning salmon and the irritatingly-flittering butterflies), sometimes more loosely interpretive, and occasionally a more traditional unison choreography. Bryce Kulak played and sang several clever original songs, in character and costume as the ghost of an old-time Mountie. Lianna Makuch and Ainsley Hillyard had cameo appearances. The simple set was made up of some jagged mountain set pieces with echoing outlines on the floor, with video projections and lighting changing with the story. And the magical realism that I alluded to earlier – I’m not sure whether Floyd’s transformation during the voyage was real, metaphorical, or something in between, but I didn’t need to know that to appreciate the story and the message.
I was uncomfortable with the specific naming of a pipeline project and a pipeline company, but I’m okay with being uncomfortable. Art with the power to make people squirm and think and examine cognitive dissonance and argue is a good thing.
The Laws of Thermodynamics, a new play by Cat Walsh directed by Heather Inglis, was playing in the Westbury Theatre, configured with a few rows of seats on risers close to the stage area. I went to see it partly because Workshop West always has interesting productions and partly because Melissa Thingelstad was in it, and her characters fascinate me. It also had James Hamilton and Julien Arnold in it, both with appearance and posture so unlike anything I’d seen them in before that I was looking through my program to see whether there was a bigger cast than I’d expected. But no, there were just five, with Cody Porter having a large role and Paula Humby a small unspeaking one. Theatre YES was credited alongside Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.
It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on. Which was okay, I think it was supposed to. A traveller in hazardous times (Cody Porter) has a truck breakdown, wanders into a small town looking for help, and meets weird people who maybe aren’t what they seem. Thingelstad is Della, a diner waitress who seems to be in charge, with a huge ring of keys. She and Jerry (Hamilton) each confides secrets in the traveller Daniel, with instructions not to tell the other. Arnold’s place in the remnant society is clearly on the bottom of the heap, but it takes a while to find out why. One of the ways that the eerie approaching doom was indicated on stage was the buzzing and swaying of the big electrical-transmission poles arranged in a false-perspective series extending backwards. I don’t know why I liked that so much, but I did. I liked the companionate relationship between Daniel and Della that formed as the end became closer, sharing a hoarded Twinkie under useless umbrellas.
The Laws of Thermodynamics was one of those shows that would have benefited from a second viewing, I think. It was both darker and more elliptical than Bears, and in some ways less entertaining. But I was not disappointed in seeing Melissa Thingelstad play another strange character, and there were some funny parts in the character interactions too.
I think the next play on my schedule will be Pink Unicorn. And maybe by then I’ll be caught up posting about shows that I saw earlier.