Tag Archives: jessica watson

The Eleven O’Clock Number

Grindstone Theatre started doing a musical improv show at the Varscona sometime last winter, at first every couple of weeks, and now every Friday night.  But I didn’t get around to going to see one of their shows until last week, on a painfully-cold Friday night.  And I had to look it up more than once to be sure, but yes, The Eleven O’Clock Number does start at 11 pm.   Apparently, “eleven o’clock number” is also an expression in musical theatre for a big memorable song in the second act.  So it’s a good title for a late-night musical improv show.

In the performance I saw, Katie Hudson was the on-stage host/narrator, Erik Mortimer provided musical inspiration and accompaniment on keyboards, and the improvisers were David Johnston, Jessica Watson, Mark Vetsch, Nathania Bernabe, and, I think, Brianne Jang.  After singing a theme song together, they started by collecting some audience suggestions, and generating a title for their production of “Never Cold”.  They then immediately launched into a catchy classical-show-tune finale scene, then jumped back in time to create the plot leading to that scene.   Mostly the narrator would call for breaks and mention the setting or maybe characters for the next scene, but did not give hints as to what would happen the way the Die-Nasty narrator/director does.

The performers built an interesting set of characters, created some plot problems that started with David Johnston’s character being infertile and his wife (Brianne Jang) having a creepy boss (Mark Vetsch) while being newcomers to the cold snowy climate from Baja California (or possibly the state of California, it wasn’t clear).  They then sang and acted their way through a not-too-convoluted story to a resolution, introducing a few more characters along the way.  Jessica Watson’s small child character was probably my favourite, with age-appropriate reasoning, self-focus, and way of speaking.  Nathania Bernabe played the small child’s mother and also had an amusing cameo as Brianne Jang’s character’s mother with an accent that I couldn’t quite place, possibly the Californian version of Brooklyn/Jewish.

The Eleven O’Clock Number plays every Friday at the Varscona Theatre, at, yes, 11 pm.  It’s a good addition to the strong improv-theatre scene in Edmonton. There’s an intermission and you’re allowed to bring drinks in to the theatre (if you buy them there, of course).  I think the show I saw finished a bit before 1 am.    You can get tickets ahead of time at Tix on the Square until sometime early on the Friday, and then you can buy them at the door.  I was also going to tell you that they’d been chosen in the Fringe venue lottery for next summer, but when I went to confirm the Fringe webpage wasn’t working.  So I’ll fix this note if I’m wrong.

Proof, at the Walterdale

“She’s not my friend. She’s my sister.”

There are lots of good lines in David Auburn’s play Proof, currently playing at the Walterdale Theatre and directed by Kristen Finlay, but that was one of my favourites.  Two of the characters in the story are sisters, Catherine (Gabby Bernard) and Claire (Jessica Watson).  Catherine, the younger, had been living at home and taking care of her mentally ill father Robert until his death just before the play starts, and Claire is the successful stylish older sister who breezes in from New York City to manage things.  The tensions between them are understandable but not clichéd.

Robert (dale Wilson), seen in some flashback scenes and other devices, was a likeable character who reminded me of my own father.  He had been a mathematician and math professor.  The fourth character in the play is his protégé Hal (Jordan Ward, previously seen in The Full Monty and the Fringe show God on God).  Hal has been reading through the notebooks in Robert’s study looking for anything important or publishable that might have appeared among Robert’s graphomaniac gibberish.

All four actors portray their characters as interesting and complex.  One might assume that Claire, the conventional non-mathematician in the group, is going to be socially competent where the rest are awkward, but in the company of her sister and Hal she turns out to have her own brand of awkwardness and insensitivity, and Jessica Watson occasionally shows her as being wistful about being excluded.  Claire and her father, and then Claire and Hal, all share a kind of delight in literal thinking and wordplay-argument that is very familiar to me.  In a flashback scene, a younger Catherine tells Robert that she’s been accepted to Northwestern University and will be moving out soon to resume her studies.  He is resistant, flailing to make up various objections, but when his graduate student Hal shows up to drop off a thesis draft, Robert immediately begins bragging to Hal about Catherine’s good news and bright future, making sure that she overhears.  Another thing that impressed me about this scene was Jordan Ward’s different body language and voice as a 24-year-old student at his advisor’s home, compared to how we’d seen him in the previous scene, aged 28, talking to Catherine who is younger and without academic credentials.  As the student, he’s hunched over, hesitant, out of place, over-eager to agree with his advisor, but as the young instructor he’s got a veneer of superficial confidence and condescension.

Hal’s interactions with Catherine were fascinating and infuriating to watch throughout the play, because although they have shared interests and are attracted to each other, he reveals over and over the kinds of casually-sexist and educationally-elitist assumptions that are unfortunately not uncommon in young male academics.  For example, he asks her how old she is but responds indignantly when she asks him the same question.  He obviously thinks that her age is relevant and his isn’t, and that he is entitled to assess her credibility as a scholar.

I thought Gabby Bernard was very strong in her portrayal of the main character Catherine.  The character’s unguarded facial expressions were perfect, especially in the scene where she thinks she’s caught Hal stealing something but his backpack turns out to be empty, and in the scene where Hal tells Claire about finding some unpublished work in the study.  That scene, ending the first act, is the critical point of the play.  Catherine is standing outside of Hal’s field of view, and it’s clear that the other two characters are completely unaware of her, but the lighting designer’s choices and the actor’s stance and facial expressions of growing disbelief led me to focus on her.

As Robert, dale Wilson appears in only a few scenes.  But the scene in which he is convinced that he’s ready to resume productive mathematics after his previous bout of mental illness is heartbreaking.  He encourages Catherine to read out his draft notes and he nods with self-congratulation as she reads gently “The future of cold is infinite. The future of heat is the future of cold. The bookstores are infinite and so are never full except in September…”

The story of this play gave me lots to think about, not just about family relationships and about attitudes of men and women, but also about fields of discovery, about the fear of being too old to do good work, and about watching oneself for signs of instability. 

There are three more performances, tonight through Saturday night at the Walterdale Theatre.  Tickets are available at Tix on the Square and at the door.