Tag Archives: monica maddaford

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.

Gabriel: first glimpse of Moira Buffini

I was looking forward to learning about contemporary English playwright through two of her works which will be produced as part of the U of A Studio Theatre season, but last week I had the chance to expand my knowledge of her work through seeing a production of her 1997 play Gabriel in the Bleviss Laboratory Theatre on campus (the former Media Room), directed by Amanda Bergen, MFA Directing candidate.

Gabriel is set in a gloomy farmhouse in occupied Guernsey during World War II.  The family occupying the house comprises Jeanne (Kristi Hansen), her daughter-in-law Lily (Zoe Glassman), her young daughter Estelle (Sadie Bowling, last seen in last year’s Christmas Carol), and their housekeeper Lake (Monica Maddaford).  Dave Clarke is Von Pfunz, an officer of the occupying army, and Graham Mothersill appears as an unidentified man discovered unconscious on the beach, to whom they refer as Gabriel.  One of the patterns in this tense situation is women confiding in men whom they believe won’t be able to understand them, Jeanne to the German-speaking officer and Lily to the unconscious man.  This is a convenient script device allowing the audience to learn more about the women’s points of view, but also a way of illustrating how each of them is private and alone in the crowded little house.   Estelle, who is aged about ten or eleven, resents the German occupiers and takes a variety of rebellious actions, from esoteric (chalking a ‘square of power’) to more practical (trying to make the soldiers think the house they’re staying in is haunted, vandalizing the commander’s boots).  Sadie Bowling captures her earnest stubbornness without being cute.  Jeanne’s quite different survival tactics are portrayed sympathetically by Kristi Hansen, whose set jaw and careful poise work well in the period piece.

Gabriel awakens and recovers his health but not his memory.  Lily dresses him in some of her late husband’s clothes which had not already been repurposed, giving him the odd appearance of being dressed for a cricket or tennis match surrounded by people in old dark-coloured garments as would seem more appropriate for rural people in wartime.  He appears to speak both English and German fluently, so while the family is determined to protect him from the occupying force, they are more interested in finding a safe background story than a true one.   Stakes are raised when we learn that Lily’s background is Jewish, that her documentation has been falsified, and that the German commander knows.

Personally, I’m usually suspicious about fictional characters named Gabriel because of how often they turn out to be either dead or angelic.  And enough ambiguity was left in the outcome of Gabriel that my theory still holds.

Starless, by Eric Rice

This year’s selection for Walterdale Theatre’s From Cradle to Stage new plays project was one longer work instead of a series of one-acts, Eric Rice’s work Starless.  I saw it tonight, and I found it unexpectedly moving.  So much so that I had trouble articulating questions at the talkback after the show.

That is a compliment.   I guess it’s a compliment to share among the writer, the dramaturge Tracy Carroll, the director Marsha Amanova, and several of the cast members.

Starless is a story about two homeless people, Ralph (Mark Anderako) and Mary (Monica Maddaford), and the people they interact with during one difficult day, a police constable (Dave Wolkowski), a boy (Carter Hockley), a blog reporter (Stephanie O’Neill), an artist/art-vendor (Jim Zalcik), a priest (Zalcik), and a landlord (Wolkowski).  The title refers to an advantage of sleeping outdoors over sleeping under a roof, that outdoors you can see the stars.  Ralph, the main character, seemed both credible and interesting – physically frail, foulmouthed, dirty, cynical, but at the same time having a clear sense of fairness and a tendency to poetic metaphor.  The audience never finds out Ralph’s whole backstory, because he’s not someone who would tell any of the people he encounters that day, and as his love Mary says (approximately – I stopped taking notes), “We don’t tell those stories.  Those were just things that happened.  We just tell the story that ends with living happily ever after.”

The set was simple but evocative of various outdoor locations – a park, a church doorstep, a coffee shop patio, the back of a low-rent apartment building.  Stage lighting is still a mystery to me, so I was astonished to realize at intermission that the floor was actually not green; it was just lit that way during the park scenes.  The music at intermission and after the show (Don Henley’s “Starry Starry Night” and a familiar cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be”) was just perfect, fitting the story and the mood with emotionally familiar song, and I don’t remember now whether there was pre-show music or not.   I also appreciated the artist’s painting representing a monochrome version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (“I call it Van Gogh misplaces his palette”), recalling my recent visit to the original work in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Maddaford and Hockley also played characters with enough depth to be intriguing and their own personal challenges.   Maddaford played Mary with an appealing serenity and some native shrewdness, and it eventually turned out to be easy to see why she and Ralph were together.  Hockley had great facial expressions when he was listening, very believable for a kid who is accustomed to be on the edges of adult conversations that he might disagree with or worry about.  His speaking was occasionally difficult to follow, although I’m not sure whether he was too fast, too quiet, or just not making his words distinct.

The minor character who most caught my attention was Jim Valcik’s artist, identified in the program as Vendor, a glib and self-absorbed painter who jumps to assure Ralph he can identify with him but doesn’t listen to him.  “Chaos and bars?  Yep, that was our art-student life; it was great!”

Starless is playing at the Walterdale through Saturday night, 8 pm curtain.  Advance tickets  are at Tix on the Square (listed as From Cradle to Stage), and also available at the door.  Thursday is 2-for-1 night.