Tag Archives: queer

Two storytellers facing forwards

KaldrSaga: stories and storytellers

It’s a Norse-inspired start to the dark and cold of the theatre year – from the chanting and thread-spinning witches of the Malachite Theatre production of the Scottish play being reminiscent of the Norns who control destinies in Norse mythology, to a more explicit tribute to the gods, goddesses, and other beings of the traditions in Harley Morison’s new work KaldrSaga: A Queer Tavern Drama for a Midwinter’s Night, playing at The Almanac until Jan 26th.

Nasra Adem and Jake Tkaczyk play storytelling friends Saga and Kaldr, who meet once a year at a pub midway between their homes, to tell stories together and drink and catch up.  And Saga and Kaldr then play the characters in the stories they’re telling, stories from their own history (that include encounters with gods and goddesses, giants, a magpie named Pica, and other beings), and stories of the gods.  I don’t know a lot about Norse mythology (and I’d know even less if it weren’t for the Marvel Cinematic Universe reminding me about Thor and Loki, Asgard and Midgard and Bifröst.) but it didn’t really matter – it’s just a bonus to enjoying the stories that now I can look up the names I can remember – Kvasir, Mosey/Mothi, Sif, Freya.

Sometimes it appeared that the stories were part of a familiar repertoire and we saw the storytellers negotiating as part of clarifying how the game worked.  (“You started this one without me?” “I don’t want to do this one!” “The word fuckboy was not in my mother’s vocabulary!”)  Off the top, the first character to enter endowed the audience with being the pub audience waiting for stories – and this was easy, in the narrow back room of The Almanac with the performers moving back and forth between their tables and their bar (staffed during performance by their stage manager), and the audience seated along the opposite wall.  In telling the stories, they often shifted between characters, sometimes each of them taking a turn with a character as the narrative needed, using common physicality and voice to keep the continuity (like Jamie Cavanagh and Chris Cook in 3…2…1 or like Jim Libby and Jacob Banigan of Rocket Sugar Improv).  This was almost always easy to follow with their shifts of voice and physicality, and sometimes also delightful (the cats pulling Freya’s chariot, and then Freya driving the chariot).

The storytellers told the stories of how they’d met and how they’d come to be travelling.  We learned that they both identified as queer, and that they were both finding better lives on the road than the ones expected by their parents and in their home villages.  We learned how they got to be good storytellers (a deity is involved).  Kaldr, who’s left his home village because of taunts about being gay, seeks out Lofn, the goddess of forbidden love, in hopes she can make things right.  “I’m just like a marriage commissioner” she shrugs, “changing someone’s mind is harder.  For that, you need an army.”

They also told stories of the gods, often with an emphasis on queerness.  There’s a really great sequence at drag-queen open-mic night (including an original song composed by Rebecca Merkley and choreography by C.J. Rowein) And there’s a hopeful twist on how they get the aforementioned army for changing minds.

Near the end, there’s a bit that made my seat-mate and me both shiver with apprehension about what we thought was coming next … but then it didn’t seem to happen the way we were expecting, and we weren’t sure afterwards if it was just a more subtle version of the destiny hinted at, or if the more-open-ended finish suggested they were avoiding that destiny … we didn’t know, but we were both engaged with what would happen to these two likeable characters, Kaldr and Saga.

The play was a great opportunity for the actors to show us many different characters and make them distinct and interesting.  Nasra Adem is a former youth poet laureate of Edmonton.  Their storytelling benefited from the rhythms and style of their spoken-word performance, and it was great to watch their characters bantering and calling-out with joyful confidence.  Jake Tkaczyk’s acting roles have included Caliban in The Tempest, Lady Laura Lee the mysterious bridal shop owner in Don’t Frown at the Gown, a western sidekick of Pretty Boy Floyd the early 20th-century bank robber, and a badly-behaved young teenager in Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant…Ever, and in KaldrSaga he created some very different characters.  One of my favourite stories was the one where a travelling carver/artist (Adem) barters with a hostile tavern owner (Tkaczyk), one carved chess piece for food and lodging.  Elise Jason was production designer – without making many changes in the bar venue, they used a few simple touches to set us into the pub of mythic storytelling, with the characters’ costumes just slightly set apart from the current norms by a bit more fur and a few more weapons.

I also loved the insertions of current cultural references (Beyoncé, Grindr, a god having not only subjects but “followers”) and cellphone use.

Tickets are available through the Cardiac Theatre website for performances to January 26th, including two performances today (Saturday Jan 12th) at 4 pm and 8 pm.

Pink Unicorn, and other samples of diversity

I loved The Pink Unicorn.  I loved its narrator Trisha (Louise Lambert), a widowed mother in a small Texas town.  And I loved seeing how I misjudged Trisha, first seeing her tailored floral outfit, big hair,  and fussy mannerisms and hearing her Texas accent, and assuming that she would be overly concerned with appearances, tradition, and approval of authority.

I was wrong!  The more I got to know about Trisha, the more I respected her and enjoyed listening to her.  Because not only did she start out with a more complex background, she grew and changed over the course of the events she recounts, starting when her daughter Jolene tells her that she wants to start high school as Jo, a person without gender, genderqueer and pansexual.  The playwright Elise Forier Edie has been very clever in creating a protagonist who is uninformed to start with but eager to learn about concepts of gender in order to understand her child.  So Trisha reports that she began to research on Wikipedia, and at first you can hear the air quotes around every phrase that comes out of her mouth, “androgyne” “LGBTQ” and “gender continuum”.   At first she doesn’t see the point of it, just gamely goes on with supporting Jo because she’s always wanted her to be able to be herself.  The audience can feel a little superior because Trisha is bewildered, but the script gives the audience lots of information along the way and brings everyone up to speed on vocabulary and concepts.  And sometimes this is very funny.  Her description of the gender continuum first has Charles Bronson at one end and Marilyn Monroe at the other, herself close to the Marilyn end and Jo somewhere in the middle, but when she explains it to someone else later in the story, she starts at the hypermasculine end with Charles Bronson, then she adds Clint Eastwood, then Hilary Clinton, then a big gap before Brad Pitt.

The performance has Trisha aware of an audience, telling the story to outsiders like us and addressing us directly.   Her occasional bad language and vulgarity is startling and delightful, because we know that she doesn’t usually use it to other people.  And when she expresses some unkind thoughts and reveals prejudices, it matters.  She knows she shouldn’t be saying mean things about fat people, lesbians, or disabled people, and she isn’t doing it to get a laugh – she just needs to admit those thoughts because her mis-judgements matter to the story.

As Jo and her friends encounter resistance to forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, Trisha finds herself drawn into their fight and discovers unexpected allies of her own.  I especially loved the matter-of-fact part about her alcoholic brother – the script had no glib attempt to explain his alcoholism and bad choices with past-trauma tropes, and Trisha discovers that he can still offer her meaningful support despite his sickness.   Trisha’s Biblical interpretations and Jo’s speeches about freedom and diversity are useful background for anyone who needs to argue in support of Gay-Straight Alliances or other support for diverse genders and sexualities.

Trevor Schmidt directed the play and is also credited with designing the playful pink and peach set and costume.   In the show I attended, the performer had the best line-prompt call I’ve ever seen, staying completely in character and improvising a reaction to the prompt that had the audience laughing and on her side.

The Pink Unicorn is playing until February 28th at the PCL Studio at the Arts Barns.  It is an impressive solo performance of a good script, it is a story of contemporary queer lives that has a happy ending, it is a celebration of family love and personal growth that are not in contradiction, it is enjoyable for people who are familiar with LGBTQ issues and those who are not, and it is a valuable discussion-starter that has had me thinking ever since.   Tickets are through Fringe Theatre Adventures.  If you live far enough from Edmonton that you can’t see this show and you wish you could, you can buy an electronic copy of the script here.  You can arrange performance rights through the author, whose contact information is on the same publisher’s page.