Tag Archives: play

The Ugly One

The Ugly One, written originally in German by Marius von Mayenberg, is currently playing at PCL Studio, a Kill Your Television production directed by Kevin Sutley.

Harsh clear lighting and a stark set (Kerem Çetinel) lead into a story with distanced and stylized dialogue, with original musical underscoring (Dave Clarke and Rhys Martin).  The premise is that Lette, a middle-aged male engineering designer (Nathan Cuckow) suddenly discovers that his colleagues and his wife (Nadien Chu) have always considered him unspeakably ugly and never mentioned it.  His wife claims not to mind, but his employer (David Ley) is about to send Lette’s assistant (Chris Bullough) to present their new product, since of course Lette’s face makes it inappropriate for him to go.  It was interesting to explore the concept of how his unattractiveness limits his opportunities with a character for whom that was a completely new concept, rather than a fact of life and society that he’d grown up with.

When a surgeon (Ley) offers Lette the opportunity to change his face, he is apprehensive but agrees.  Surgery takes place on stage, in a dental-office-type chair, with disconcerting and convincing sound effects.  The subsequent unveiling displays Lette as an unusually attractive man, with various consequences.  At this point, I was reminded of various fables and archetypes in which getting what one’s wished for destroys one’s life, like the classic horror story “The Monkey’s Paw” that we studied in high school English class.  Because it turns out to be not that simple – even getting to present the invention at a trade show brings unwanted complications.

Things get weirder and worse as the surgeon goes on to perform the surgery on others, giving them all the same handsome face as Lette, so that his popularity is temporary, his marriage and employment break down, and he finds ultimate comfort only in a disturbingly narcissistic contact. In a brilliant demonstration of theatre’s ability to convince an audience without the realistic special effects of film, Cuckow’s face, voice, and physical presentation are sufficiently different before and after the surgery to make him look homely beforehand and attractive afterwards with no external assistance that I could detect.  All the other actors in the piece play multiple characters, with subtle shifts in vocal intonation and posture making them easy to distinguish.

The Ugly One continues at the PCL Studio until May 23rd, with tickets available through the Fringe box office.

Michael Healey’s Proud

Tonight I saw a preview of theatre no. 6’s presentation of Proud.  Director Ian Leung said ahead of time that there might be technical glitches, but I didn’t notice any.   Parking around La Cité Francophone was unusually challenging, probably due to the Alberta NDP leadership debate taking place across the street at Faculté St. Jean, and afterwards I found that a cheering thought.

Proud is a story about politicians and about some parts of the political process, and about beliefs and emotions and what kind of government people want.  I hated some of what I saw on stage because I think it might be true and I don’t want it to be, and I loved how they showed it. The premise of the story started by imagining that the federal election of 2011 had generated a much larger majority for the Conservatives, if they had won seats all over Quebec by very slim margins over the NDP.  (That this is completely feasible to imagine is thoroughly depressing in itself.  See Fair Vote Canada for more.)   As the Prime Minister says addressing his newly expanded caucus, “We have broad but thin support.  If this was ice, I couldn’t recommend we play shinny on it.”   There’s a funny early scene where the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff are examining a large seating chart of the House of Commons trying to plan who should sit where.  All one side and about half the other side are coded Conservative-blue.  There are 28 orange cards and 25 red ones, and I couldn’t be sure but I think then 4 BQ baby-blue and one green one.  That wasn’t even the point of the scene, just a fun detail I got distracted by.  The point of it was more to show the Prime Minister being petty and demanding about not wanting certain caucus members to be in his line of sight because he held grudges, and his Chief of Staff trying to find solutions that would keep his boss happy and not make any other problems.

Dave Horak was a perfect Chief of Staff, down to the low voice and the way he expected to fall on his metaphorical sword.  Brian Dooley was disturbingly good as a non-ideological Prime Minister who doesn’t make eye contact.  And Melissa Thingelstad was — I think this is my favourite role that I have seen her in so far.  She played a rookie MP from Quebec, a single mother who had been managing a St-Hubert Barbecue (cultural note: that’s a Quebec chain much like Swiss Chalet only with tarte au sucre.)   Her character had a wonderful mix of ferociousness and naiveté, sexuality and practicality and honesty and pragmatic ambition in which the Prime Minister seemed to have met his match.  “Why do you insist on mis-underestimating me?” she asked at one point.   When her character first appeared, I worried that she was going to be used as a sort of sexist shortcut and comic foil, making fun of young women in general and of the 2011-era rookie NDP MPs from Quebec like Ruth-Ellen Brossard.  But she got more interesting.

Richard Lee Hsi (formerly billed as Richard Lee, last seen in the Toy Guns Dance Theatre shows at the Fringe and in the feature film Rock Paper Dice Enter) had a small role as a character from the future being interviewed about the events of the play and about his own political aspirations.   His interview/monologue alluded to some very discouraging outcomes that would follow easily from the present-day of the play, which is not so different from our own, (a powerless consolidated Left and the Conservatives with a longest-serving Prime Minister very similar to Harper), but also gave the audiences some hopeful prospect in the way he spoke about his own ideals and ambitions.

On my way home from work, before I went to the performance, I heard a CBC Radio interview with David Moscrop, a doctoral candidate in political science at UBC.  His research focuses on the way people choose how to vote with their emotions rather than their reasoning.  This was echoed in the play, in which the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff explain to the new MP that they address people’s feelings rather than their beliefs.

Ian Leung’s Director’s Note in the program says “save all that heavy stuff for after.  Tonight, it’s a comedy.  Enjoy!”

I did enjoy it.  I’m not sure it’s a comedy though.  I didn’t think the British TV series “House of Cards” was a comedy either.  (I haven’t seen the Netflix one with Kevin Spacey.)   I guffawed several times, and I also squirmed in my seat and winced quite a bit.  I wished it wasn’t quite so credible, but at the same time I was enthralled by the ways it was.

Proud is playing at L’Unithéâtre, La Cité Francophone, until October 19th.  Tickets are at, of course, Tix on the Square.

Ride, by Jane Bodie

The audience for Northern Light Theatre’s latest play Ride, by Jane Bodie, arrives in the black-box space of the Transalta Arts Barns’ PCL Studio Theatre and we take our seats, before studying the set.  It looks like a large comfortable bedroom for a young adult, with a platform-futon, various shelves around the room with neat stacks of clothes and books, and then a couple of sets of last night’s clothes thrown around on top.  After a few minutes of studying the set, we realise that there are actually people in the bed!  They seem to be asleep under a comforter, and they seem to be naked.

The play opens with the two characters waking up and realising in shock that they aren’t alone – and that each has no memory of who the other character is and whether they had had sex.  The actors are Cole Humeny, whom I last saw as the younger accused soldier in A Few Good Men at the Citadel, and Sereana Malani, whom I remember from last summer’s Fringe production of Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

The last time I saw a play with a similar premise, it was by Erika Ritter, who at the time was the host of a CBC Radio afternoon show.  It may have been The Automatic Pilot, and I saw it a long time ago, when I thought that the characters who got drunk and picked up strangers in bars were at some kind of brittle cynical unhappy life-stage that I hadn’t gotten to yet.  But in Ride, both characters seemed like likeable reasonable people with understandable motivations, not overly unhappy, and, well, young.  (I’ll leave the exercise for the reader about what this says about my intervening life.)  But I don’t mean that the characters were the same; they had different responses to the situation they were in and I definitely had a favourite.

One interesting feature of this production is that it is crammed full of references to local Edmonton landmarks relevant to the characters, including delightful and familiar snarky asides about various bars on Whyte Avenue and downtown.  Application to the internet tells me that the playwright is Australian, so the local colour must have been added for this production.  It really works, especially in the context of the two characters struggling to figure out whether their social circles interlock but agreeing about their impressions of, say, the LRT and Filthy McNasty’s.

When I mentioned to a friend last night that I’d just come from seeing Ride, he said “Oh, the naked play!” which I guess is the other notable feature of this story.  Each character’s nudity is briefly visible to the audience as he or she gets out of bed to get dressed, but because they are making a point of not wanting the other character to ogle, it feels particularly inappropriate to do so as an audience member.  So if you want to know where to sit in the theatre for the best views of the full-frontal, you can ask someone other than me.

One of the things I liked about this play was that it wasn’t too big a story.  It probably wasn’t a life-changing moment for either character.  Neither of them turned out to be horrifyingly messed up.  There was some resolution to the plot, but not too much, and the resolution was completely consistent with the character-building.  And the actors didn’t overplay it; they were credible and subtle and like people I’ve known and people I’ve been.  Cole Humeny was particularly good at revealing some ordinary heartbreak in a quiet way that was completely consistent with his character.  Sereana Malani’s character was funnier, and she played the mix of self-protectively sarcastic and vulnerable in a believable way.

Ride plays until February 9th and it runs just under an hour and a half.  Tickets are available through Fringe Theatre Adventures – which means that you can buy tickets on-line for same day performances.  Last night’s show was sold out, though, so you should buy yours ahead of time.