Tag Archives: clinton carew

Betrayal, by Harold Pinter

Betrayal runs in reverse order – scenes from the end of an affair to its start several years earlier.  I didn’t know very much else about it beforehand, but that bit helped.   In the first scene, Elena Porter’s character Emma and Chris W Cook’s character Jerry are meeting for a drink a couple of years after their affair ended.  They both seemed terse, brittle, understated, and careful with each other.  Was that was due to their characters, the history between them, or just some mythical British reserve? It wasn’t clear.  Within a few more scenes I’d also watched each of them interact with Emma’s husband and Jerry’s best friend Robert (Cody Porter), and I was thinking that none of them seemed very happy, with each other or in general.

But as I learned in a playwriting class, flashbacks and hints raise the stakes.  How did these people get in this unhappy situation?  I wanted to find out, and I was primed to watch for clues.  In the first scene, Emma and Jerry share news of various people who had been in each other’s lives – Robert, Jerry’s wife Judith, their respective children, other associates.  None of these people ever appears on stage, but they are all mentioned as the story rewinds back through the years, and I realized that the conversations in the first scene weren’t so much awkward time-filling as significant information about what had happened.

The various scenes take place in bars and restaurants, in Emma and Robert’s home, in a tourist hotel, and in the flat Jerry and Emma had rented for afternoon rendezvous.  Director/designer Clinton Carew has made some fascinating choices in how to use the small black-box space of the Arts Barns Studio Theatre, with furniture for each setting poised not quite out of sight in multiple legs on either side, arranged asymmetrically.  The pub table where Jerry and Emma meet in the first scene is far upstage, constrained in a narrow space far from the audience.  As the story progresses backwards in time, the scenes are played closer and closer to the audience risers.  This reminded me of this company’s production of Three Sisters several years ago, in which the family’s gradual uprooting from their family home is paralleled by the actors gradually piling up abandoned furniture upstage and moving down until they end up almost in the audience moat.

All this furniture moving takes place with the help of a character moving with precise almost fussy physicality (Jake Tkaczyk, recently seen with Elena Porter in the Shadow Theatre production of Lungs).  He turns out to be a restaurant waiter in one of the later/earlier scenes.

Costume design is by Leona Brausen.  My impression in the first few scenes is that everything is colourless grey and beige, with all the characters in trenchcoats.   But as the years rewind to happier and more vulnerable times, the palette of costuming and lighting shifts warmer as well, towards a warm master-bedroom of affection and Emma’s splendid red party frock consistent with the characters’ feelings.

I’ve seen Chris W Cook playing many characters who are well-meaning stoner bros without a future, earnest and a little stupid, shortsighted and limited in worldview – the drugged-up guy in 3…2…1 bragging about contributing to his customers’ health as a Subway sandwich artist, the young fellow in Sweat getting out of jail with the swastika neck tattoo, the drinking buddy in Nighthawk Rules trying to drag his old friend away from his grownup boring girlfriend, the wannabe-artist in The Aliens.  But in some ways his turtleneck-sporting character in Betrayal is the opposite of those – a well-spoken successful literary agent and, as one of my preview-night companions said afterwards, “a complete cad.”

The playwright Harold Pinter is known for effective use of silences in conversation “the Pinter pause”, and having seen this production I can see why.   In the stillnesses I wondered what Robert wasn’t saying, what Emma wanted to say, what Jerry was being careful about.  I found Cody Porter’s constrained facial expressions particularly compelling.  I kept wanting him to smile – I kept wanting them all to smile – but he always seemed to be in pain.

I’d like to see Betrayal again, especially to watch those beginning scenes knowing where they come from.  But once is sufficient to understand the story, to have some sympathy for the not-entirely-likeable characters, and to be challenged and entertained.  Betrayal runs until the afternoon of Sunday June 2, with tickets through Fringe.

 

Morgan Smith’s Cheerleader! – a reading at the Timms

After taking a couple months off from posting (I’ve still been doing theatre stuff and watching shows, and I hope to share my notes with you and get caught up soon), the first production I am posting about is the one I didn’t get to see, the ticket I didn’t get to use – Human Loser’s production of Morgan Smith’s Cheerleader, scheduled to open at the Roxy Theatre last week under Clinton Carew’s direction.

Because, as anyone in the Edmonton theatre scene already knows, the Roxy Theatre building burned down last Tuesday morning, just as Cheerleader was set to start preview performances.   The building was built in 1938 as a movie theatre, and had been home to Theatre Network since 1989.  Theatre Network, under the artistic direction of Bradley Moss, produces an annual schedule of challenging professional theatre, often new and often Canadian, hosts the emerging-artists festival Nextfest in the spring, and also curates a “Performance Series” of works from other theatre companies, like Cheerleader.  I had been looking forward to this play, being familiar with the work of local actors Joleen Ballandine (last seen in the Fringe Festival comedies Real Time and Excuse Me! and as a regular player at Rapid Fire improv), Patrick Lundeen (Kill Me Now, Sia, Christmas Carol, etc), and Lianna Makuch (U of A BFA grad I’ve also seen on several local stages since she graduated).

Playwright Morgan Smith hopes to have arrangements in place soon for a local production to do this script justice, after replacing the lost props, costumes, and set.  But they were able to do a bare-stage reading last night at the University of Alberta Timms Centre Mainstage, thanks to the generosity of the Timms Centre and the Department of Drama.

What I heard and saw last night confirmed that I will definitely take the opportunity to see the full production.

I had never been to a staged reading before.  The playwright and the actors were all on a simply lit bare stage with chairs and with scripts on music stands.  The playwright read the stage directions.  The actors stood when they were in the scene and sat down when they weren’t.  Instead of looking at each other or hitting each other or embracing each other as the script called for, they all faced the audience and mimed a bit as needed.  This was a bit distracting at first but was easy to get used to.  It reminded me of attending the recording of a radio show like The Irrelevant Show.

The two most enjoyable parts were the parts that were acted out, which is part of why I want to see the rest of the show acted out.  The show opened with a delightful cheerleading routine / dance number involving all four characters with pompoms.  And partway through there was a hilarious non-verbal scene set in a row of cinema seats, with people changing seats, sharing popcorn, making out, and disagreeing.

The characters in the story were four high school students, two football players (Patrick Lundeen and Matthew McKinney of Calgary) and two cheerleaders (Lianna Makuch and Joleen Ballandine).  The head cheerleader (Makuch) and the quarterback (Lundeen) seemed to be the “alpha couple” of the school, with the other two as their respective best friends.  Each of the characters was shown to have some familial or personal challenges, using the narrative techniques of monologue asides or scenes with the other actors standing in as teachers and family members.  There was also some narrative framing of Lianna Makuch’s character telling the story to the audience by directing the others to act it out, which was particularly amusing as the narrative ended, but because of the nature of the reading I found this framing a bit confusing.  I am sure it would be more clear in a fully-staged performance.

The story seemed to be taking place in a one-week timeframe, as the other characters planned a surprise birthday party for Lundeen’s character on the next Saturday night.  Some of the situations and attitudes seemed fairly predictable, although not boring or stereotypical, but the characters were interesting enough to intrigue me.

Joleen Ballandine’s character Sophie was the most interesting to me, as the cheerleader-sidekick in unrequited love with her female best friend.  The scene in which she vents her internalized homophobia in a vicious phone call to an offstage gay character is compellingly awful and unfortunately credible.

Donations to Theatre Network may be made on line through Canada Helps.  I know that Human Loser Theatre was collecting donations last night to re-mount Cheerleader, but I don’t know if they also have an on-line donation option.  (I’ll link later if I find out anything.)

The Three Sisters, a play about lacking agency

It can’t count as a spoiler if it’s something that everybody knows, something that’s entered the cultural lexicon.  Godot never comes.  Rosebud is his sled.  And the three sisters don’t get to Moscow.

That’s actually all I knew about Anton Chekov’s famous play The Three Sisters, before attending the Broken Toys Theatre production last night.  They don’t get to Moscow.  Oh, and one of them would be called Masha.

The Broken Toys production was directed by Clinton Carew, and he also did a new translation of the play from the Russian.  Before the show started, Carew came to the front of the stage and told the audience that he would be filling in for an ill cast member until further notice, and he alluded to the broadsheet he was carrying, with Russian headlines, which he would be referring to throughout the show.  (Maybe it had lines or cues on it, but he didn’t actually spell that out.)  I eventually figured out that the ill cast member must be Ken Brown, cast as Chebutykin the old military doctor and friend/tenant of the family.  I also spent the whole evening trying to figure out whether I’d seen Clinton Carew on stage before or whether his voice and movement just reminded me of someone, and this morning a theatre friend has pointed out to me that Carew had played in the Catalyst Theatre production The Soul Collector.

There were many more familiar faces and names on the Varscona stage as well – almost as many as in the cast list for The Christmas Carol (no overlap of course).

Lora Brovold (A Few Good Men, Let the Light of Day Through) was the oldest sister, competent comforting Olga the unmarried teacher.  The middle sister Masha, the discontented married one, was Melissa Thingelstad (An Accident, Kill Me Now).   The bitter sarcastic edge that her paralyzed character showed in An Accident and the impatient strides of the caregiver aunt in Kill Me Now were perfect in Masha, and the scenes in which she is parted from her lover and welcomed back by the husband she doesn’t love are heartbreaking.  The youngest sister Irina, with her enthusiasm for family, her naive ideas about working for a living that are gradually disillusioned as she tries working as a telegraph operator and a township council clerk and then gets a teaching qualification,  and her longing for the Moscow of her childhood, was played by Elena Porter.  I don’t think I’d seen her on stage before but I will definitely watch her again.

I did not quite recognise Jesse Gervais (Let the Light of Day Through) in the bearded off-topic character of Ferapont.  Ryan Parker of the Be-Arthurs was the brother Andrei, the petted only son who fails to live up to his sisters’ ambition for him and their hope to follow him to Moscow, finding himself stuck in marriage to banal social-climber Natasha (Laura Metcalfe), in a job with local government, and in debt due to a gambling problem.  And Michael Peng (The Kite Runner, An Accident) was very strong as Vershinin, the military commander with unhappy homelife, tendency to make philosophical speeches, and passion for Masha.

During the play, various characters sing or hum bits of song, unaccompanied and with about the same attention to rhythm and tune as ordinary people in real life.  This struck me as unusual for the stage, where people don’t usually sing without singing well.   Between acts, the cast members set up new furniture as needed for a bedroom and then the grounds of the house.  Instead of removing the furniture used for previous sets, they piled it all up at the back of the stage, building the impression of the family being less and less settled in the military town and in the family home that Natasha is gradually taking over.  I also really liked the modern language in Carew’s translation, “Weird!” “Well, that happened.” “She has … people skills.” and very occasional profanity.  I thought the play was a lot funnier than Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, which I remember studying in Grade 13, but I can’t tell how much of that was due to the strengths of this production, and how much was just that it went over my head in the  English classroom.

Playing til December 7th, tickets ahead of time at Tix on the Square, same-day tickets at the door.  I really wish that Tix on the Square and their partner companies could do same-day on-line sales the way the Fringe box office and Eventbrite can do.