Tag Archives: trevor schmidt

Live in Calgary!

Photo shows Chris Enright, Trevor Schmidt, and Jake Tkaczyk, in Flora and Fawna Have Beaver Fever (And So Does Fleurette!). Picture from Lunchbox Theatre Facebook, credit TBD.

J Kelly Nestruck, the theatre reviewer for The Globe and Mail, said in a recent column, “Is any theatre scene in Canada as hopping right now as the one in Calgary?

I can’t judge that, but last week I viewed performances of two of the three productions he mentions. The creators of both shows have Edmonton connections.

Flora and Fawna have Beaver Fever (and so does Fleurette!) by Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt has three more shows as of this writing – two on Saturday afternoon and one Sunday Feb 5th at noon. In this Lunchbox Theatre production, Schmidt as 10-year-old Fawna is joined by Jake Tkaczyk and Chris Enright (Flora and Fleurette, respectively), in the roles played in the past by Hagen and by Brian Dooley.

This was my first time seeing a Lunchbox production. It had a full-enough-for-pandemic-comfort house for a show at noon on a weekday. The performers interact a bit with audience members in character before the show, reminiscent of a Fringe performance, and then the play starts with welcoming the audience as the new “junior probationary members” of the group started by these three awkward misfits and their mothers. There are rituals and activities and informational skits as earnest and clumsy as the girls themselves – the Naturelle Girls theme song is nearly as painful as an unfamiliar church congregation struggling through “He Who Would Valiant Be” – but interactions between the girls while they are running the meeting tell us more about the characters and their lives. I loved the running joke of saying that certain mean girls “shall not be named”, but watching Fawna take delight in actually telling on them. The version of history performed in their skits skewers both white capitalist colonialism and the ways it might be understood by 21st-century children. (“And then the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered Hudson’s Bay! What a coincidence!”)

One of the layers of entertainment in this show is that the actors deliver lots of doubles entendres, mostly about beaver(s), plus it’s just really funny to see adult men playing these 10yo girls in shapeless tunics and practical haircuts, Fawna playing with her dress, Flora slouching to be less of a target, and Fleurette eager to participate but usually cut off by her Anglophone friends.

There’s also a storyline with some suspense – what is Fawna trying to avoid talking about? – and some truly touching resolution and message, completely consistent with the character development.

Tickets for the remaining performances are available here. Lunchbox participates in the REP and takes the usual precautions.


Louise Casemore in Undressed. Photo by Erin Wallace.

Alberta Theatre Projects is also in downtown Calgary, in the Arts Commons building. It’s currently hosting a run of Louise Casemore’s Undressed, an original solo performance exploring the idea of auctioning off used wedding dresses. Casemore plays the auctioneer but also embodies several of the dress donors. The auctioneer talks about various kinds of single-use and extravagant artifacts used in weddings, and says that the event tries to find new homes for as many of them as possible. Finding another couple with the same names to use leftover personalized napkins amused me, and the callback gag about herding a flock of peacocks to its new owner was also droll. I was a little puzzled about how the proceeds of the auction were intended to benefit an organization called “Zero Waste Canada” (it seems to be a real thing), but in one part of the story a woman sells one wedding dress in order to buy another, more aspirational one, and I was distracted by wondering how that worked. I liked the shy lesbian who had never expected she’d get to have a wedding.

I have been to ATP before, for Waiting for the Parade and for Glory. This time, the main level of the Martha Cohen auditorium was arranged cabaret/coffeehouse style, with seating around tables, presumably with parties seated separately. Undressed runs until February 13th, with tickets available here.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921

Northern Light Theatre’s season starts off with a conflagration, at the Varscona Theatre, with Linda Wood Edwards’ play The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, directed by Trevor Schmidt. Sue Huff plays Mrs. Hastings and Twilla Macleod plays Mrs. Smith, both independent businesswomen in the small Central Alberta mining town of Big Valley. The social distance between them is large, as the blunt joyful pragmatic Hastings runs a whorehouse and Smith, a devotee of Queen Victoria and of propriety, runs a boardinghouse for unwed pregnant girls/women and helps to place their children for adoption. The costumes (production designer Alison Yanota) emphasize their differences, with Hastings in flamboyant reds and flapper style, and Smith in cool buttoned-up floorlength blues. Although both of them operate business/social enterprises dependent on men for their existence, the interactions between these two women and descriptions of offstage characters and action pass the Bechdel-Wallace test easily (“do two women have a conversation that is not about a man?”)

Productions of Northern Light Theatre often keep me guessing a bit about their genre or mood, which makes them more interesting to me than a more predictable play. As you might expect, the two characters start out hostile to each other and full of assumptions based on past hurts, but later find some similarities in their grief and in their ambitions. The funniest part is … something I’m not going to spoil, but the advice about avoiding unnecessary clothing repairs. It’s not a tidy ending, but it’s a satisfying one, leaving me thinking about middle-aged women making their own way and starting over, and about the harm done by mistrust and prejudice among groups of women.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921 runs to Sunday November 28, with tickets available for digital viewing as well as in-person performance under the Restrictions Exemption Program. The Varscona Theatre is a large auditorium and audience members are asked to leave space between each party. The concession and washrooms are open. Running time is a bit under 70 minutes.

The next play I’ll be watching is the one I’m directing now, Walterdale Theatre’s 5@50 – another look at women in middle age, how they can support each other and how they can wound each other. Tickets are available at the link.

Brilliant Women on Stage

Two of the plays I saw early in Fringe 2021 featured familiar women on stage in sympathetic nuanced portrayals of women in their middle years. Both, unsurprisingly, were directed by Trevor Schmidt.

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Woman Caught Unaware, by Annie Fox, is a solo performance by Davina Stewart. The art history professor is in her office, planning to head home to her partner, when a student appears outside of office hours. I enjoyed the the confident academic’s wry observations on student behaviour and the changing expectations for faculty members as the student seems reluctant to confide about a problem, and the professor runs through the recent advice on what to do about cyberbullying and other issues. (I was reminded of Professor Kate Fansler in Amanda Cross’s mystery novels.)

But the student has come to tell – and show – her instructor that it’s actually Professor Conté’s nude image that’s being shared on-line, with harsh comments about her aging body. And while the narrator tries to ignore it, she discovers “allies” all around her, each responding in well-intentioned but self-centred ways to adopt a cause. A protest! A petition! A nude calendar!

We get to see why the professor anticipates the sanctuary of home, in brief affectionate images of her partner Gail (“I’m like a pin, she’s like a pincushion”), their cottage, their garden, the savoury aroma of Gail’s beef bourguignon on the stove (“we’re pescatarian in public, but …”). And she eventually addresses the issue directly (this is me resisting the full-frontal metaphors), in ways that left me satisfied about an articulate older woman taking back power. I loved watching and listening to Davina Stewart in this role.

Woman Caught Unaware has performances Monday through Sunday at the Varscona Theatre with some tickets available for each.

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Destination Wedding is a Whizgiggling Productions work, written and directed by Trevor Schmidt, and performed by Cheryl Jamieson, Kristin Johnston, and Michelle Todd.

Three women meet up after many years, having all been invited to be attendants at an old friend’s destination wedding in a tropical resort location that Honey (Jamieson) insists they not name. Johnston’s Marlene is an artist seated with powerful stillness in black. Todd’s Britt is a lesbian, a successful businesswoman, and the one who slips naturally into curbing the worst of Honey’s impulses (“No, you can’t go get your hair braided on the beach / wear a bride’s tribe t-shirt, that’s appropriative”) her affect suggesting that she does this all day long and she doesn’t expect Honey to learn.

With the three fascinating characters, this premise would be enough to make an entertaining Fringe show – as if the mother’s-friends-chorus in Mamma Mia were distinct interesting people. But it turns into a darker, more ambiguous, story. Various details were mentioned – the kinds of breadcrumbs that a less subtle narrative would explain as Clues. At one point I noticed that the painted backdrop of a resort veranda scene now seemed to have a dark sky and a stormy sea, which I guess was some magic of lighting design (also Schmidt).

While the three are waiting for their old friend the bride to show up, they meet some other significant characters, providing opportunity for these three talented actors to demonstrate their skill distinguishing multiple roles, and for the audience to be even more entertained and diverted from what was turning into a central mystery. I particularly liked Johnston’s Amy, the bride’s daughter, all eye-rolling and vocal fry.

The hints weren’t all tidily wrapped up into clues and exposition, but left in a delicious suspension. I wished I’d gone with a friend to have fun figuring those things out afterwards. Maybe I should go back. But if I do, I better buy a ticket soon, since some of the remaining seven performances are already sold out.

Both these shows are also available for online viewing.

Trevor Schmidt’s Robot Girls, and other stories

My calendar was full for a while working on Cabaret for ELOPE Musical Theatre (timely and chilling and also entertaining), but now I have a little more time for watching theatre as well as helping to make it.

Two weeks ago I attended the monthly Script Salon organized by Alberta Playwrights Network and Playwrights Guild of Canada, because the new work to be read was Trevor Schmidt’s Robot Girls.  It was wonderful and it made me cry.  Kristin Johnson, Rebecca Sadowski, Jayce Mackenzie, and Karina Cox played students in a girls’ junior-high robot-building club.  Stage directions were read by assistant director Patricia Cerra.

The playwright said in the talkback session afterwards that he had tried to consistently have his characters in this play choose to be kind.  I also had the impression that the playwright was kind to the characters, making them quirky and interesting but not at all parodies or objects of amusement.  And there was still enough challenge and drama in their lives to make it interesting listening/viewing – even in a staged read.  The wide social gaps between Grade Nine soccer-star (Johnston) and naive less-popular-twin Grade Seven (Mackenzie), between the student council president (Sadowski) and the new kid (Cox) were accepted by all the characters.  Watching them awkwardly navigate the group norms and transition to productive teamwork and cautious friendship made me happy.  The premise of the story – a continually-absent teacher-advisor, a school rule against cell phone use – gives us a situation where the four girls have to interact with each other while they work on the project.  And the incidental conversations ring true – about embarrassing parents, about annoying siblings, about various understandings of menstruation, about teachers and classmates and dreams of the future.  I loved that the characters are not preoccupied with boys, romance, or sex – this script passes the Bechdel-Wallace test easily, with the few conversations about boys mostly limited to the problems of having brothers or the ways in which boys in a mixed-gender school would take over the building project.

I thought that it was a play for adults, but that young people of the characters’ ages or five years older would also enjoy it and feel like it was a fair portrayal.  In an epilogue, we hear not only how the team fares at the robot competition/festival, but how each of the characters goes on in science and in life.

It reminded me a little bit of the wonderful 1999 movie October Sky, about boys from a West Virginia coal-mining town in 1957 who pursue rocket-building.  And it also reminded me of the recent movies Eighth Grade and Booksmart, films about present-day bright feminist girls navigating social challenges at school that show their young characters in respectful ways.  In both those films, there are no villains, nobody being gratuitously mean.  The protagonists get embarrassed, and they get into awkward and potentially risky situations, but they get themselves out of them.  They aren’t stories where the writers punish the girls for aiming too high, for acting on the crush, for going to the party with more popular kids.  In both films, things don’t quite work out as hoped for the protagonists, but they aren’t disastrous.  And after I saw Eighth Grade, I realized that there are an awful lot of stories where the plot punishes the outsider girl with humiliation, with slut-shaming, with sexual assault. It’s awful that I’m impressed when that doesn’t happen in a story.  But it doesn’t always happen in life, and it shouldn’t always happen in stories.

Maybe we’re into a new kind of stories about teenage girls, and I like them.   Trevor Schmidt’s Robot Girls is a good one.  I hope to see it on stage soon.

Spooky October performances 2018

I’m not managing to see everything on Edmonton stages these days, but I wish I could.  I wish I’d seen Lenin’s Embalmers at U of A Studio Theatre, or the Maggie Tree production Blood: A Scientific Romance.  From what I’ve read about them, it looks like the creepy or paranormal themes could have fit into this Hallowe’en-week blog roundup, too.

At the Walterdale Theatre, I helped work on The Triangle Factory Fire Project, a script prepared by Christopher Piehler in collaboration with Scott Alan Evans using various primary source materials, and directed here by Barbara Mah.   It was thought-provoking and disturbing, because the horrible fates of real people were depicted graphically, because the resulting legal case portrayed did not result in justice, and because the hazards of the garment industry juxtaposed with fashion advertising are not so different from their contemporary equivalents.   Watching this story play out every night as one of the booth operators, I kept cheering for some of the determined young women who lived to tell their own stories, particularly Rose Freedman (Danielle Yu), and Ethel Monick, (Stephanie Swensrude), and kept getting angry at the factory owners and their lawyer (Eric Rice, Kent Sutherland, and Matthew Bearsto).  It was a relief to close that show and watch some scary shows for fun.  

Dead Centre of Town XI has four more performances in the Blatchford hangar at Fort Edmonton Park.  This year the macabre true stories researched and written by Megan and Beth Dart of Catch the Keys all relate to air travel.  As usual, the audience members are guided through relevant settings to encounter the characters of various disasters and mysterious happenings, while super-creepy poet/narrator Colin Matty provides extra detail and atmosphere.  “If humans were intended to fly, why are they so Goddamned squishy?”, he muses.  More live-theatre than haunted-house, this annual immersive event does a great job at making the details build up the overall experience – even the ticket distribution (“boarding passes”) and the traffic-management (impersonal masked uniformed airport workers in a crowded “boarding lounge” with staticky announcements) are part of the adventure.

Dark! at Fort Edmonton is new this year, adding on food (with creepy nicknames like Bloody Balls and Skewered Rat), drinks, and adult-level haunted-house attractions.  I went to one of the haunts, and decided that I prefer the Dead Centre of Town style of horrifying imagery enhanced by narrative, to the unexplained jump-scares of Dark!

The Bone House, by Marty Chan, also has performances remaining on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  It was also very scary in a different style again.  At first it felt like a TV or movie experience, with a forensic-psychology expert presenting an illustrated lecture about serial killers, but it became more unsettling – it was easy to involve myself into the story enough that I could imagine being in danger, but I also began to feel somewhat complicit in choosing to listen to serial-killer narratives in any medium.  Brrr.

This weekend I also managed to fit in a performance of Northern Light Theatre’s Origin of the Species, by Bryony Lavery.  With direction and set/costume design by Trevor Schmidt and performances by Kristin Johnston and Holly Turner, it uses the ridiculous premise of a contemporary archaeologist encountering a live prehistoric woman, to touch on several important themes with a subtle touch.  I particularly enjoyed the very gradual transition of the prehistoric woman Victoria (Johnston) towards modern physicality and communication, and the many ways that both characters subvert assumptions about “traditional” gender roles.

More performance genres at Fringe 2017

Note:  I don’t know why the caption isn’t showing up on my photo.  That’s Bethany Hughes from Evil Dead talking to the audience members seated in the Splash Zone. 

 

Animal Farm Treatment – I have never studied, read, or seen any version of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, but as with Sartre’s No Exit, I had a general idea of the theme and I knew one line.  During Animal Farm Treatment, a solo show by creator/performer Alice Nelson from Calgary, I wondered how it would appear to an audience member who didn’t know the expected outcome from the original cynical parable.  The playbill said that she has a study guide to accompany her show for high school audiences.  The performer skilfully switched among several speaking characters, using different physicalities and speech patterns as well as clues of having the characters refer to each other by name, and she used a few simple props to move the story forwards.  I knew that the experiment in democracy would not end well, but I kept hoping it would.  Two more shows, Friday 2:45 and Saturday 11:30 pm.

Evil Dead – Amanda Neufeld directed this lively, funny, gory musical, which is playing at L’Unitheatre.  Bethany Hughes stage managed, and in the picture above is reassuring the audience members in the Splash Zone.  Music is a four-piece instrumental group under the direction of Daniel Belland (also seen in Mormonic at this festival).  The narrative moves quickly through the tropes of horror fiction, the college students each with his or her own incentives to vacation at a lonely cabin (Matthew Lindholm, Jaimi Reese, Nadine Veroba, Stephen Allred, Josh Travnik), the eerie woods with limited access, the intrepid explorer returning from Egypt to finish her father’s work (Neufeld), the source of local knowledge Reliable Jake (Travnik), and the demons (uncredited here because that would give away some plot).  It’s very funny, and the songs are great. The action moves quickly and it’s over in 90 minutes as advertised.  Some tickets are available for tonight’s late show.

Puck Bunnies – This is another cleverly-scripted and poignant drag comedy in the spirit of Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip with Fleurette, from Guys in Disguise.  Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Jason Hardwick play the girlfriends of junior/minor-league hockey hopefuls, sharing support, gossip, and relationship troubles while in the bleachers for an intra-squad scrimmage.   Tammy, Tanya, and Tina are more than silly caricatures (although I have to say that the costumes are spot-on perfect), each with her own struggles.  The dramatic-irony part (where the audience knows something a character doesn’t realize) is great.  The gentle insertion of a more feminist awareness into a culture of “support the boys at all costs”, by Hardwick’s Tina, is credible and satisfying.  I last paid attention to this culture in the mid-90s, I found it disturbing and necessary to be reminded that, despite the pussyhat, some things have not changed.   Shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

You Fucking Earned It – At last year’s inaugural Edmonton Clown Festival (now renamed Play the Fool, and running Sept 28-Oct 1 2017), in a panel discussion Deanna Fleischer (aka Butt Kapinski) pointed out that traditional bouffon was criticizing the king in front of the king, and she challenged performers using bouffon techniques to ask themselves “Is the king in the room?”  There are two key points in this.  One is to punch up – make fun of the powerful instead of the powerless.  The other is that if it’s good bouffon serving its purpose, nobody in the audience should feel comfortable and safe.  At the start of the performance of You Fucking Earned It (a Naked Empire Bouffon work featuring Cara McLendon and Sabrina Wenske, directed by Nathaniel Justiniano whom you might recall from You Killed Hamlet), I wondered whether the piece would succeed at the second point for an Edmonton audience, but it definitely did.  One more show, 2:45 today (Friday).

The show I’ve been working on, How I Lost One Pound, the Musical, also has one more show this festival, at 6:30 pm today in the Rutherford Room at the Varscona Hotel.  We are not sold out at the box office and I will have some tickets available at the door as well.  I’d love to show more people this quirky funny low-key narrative about a woman at mid-life.   Lesley Carlberg’s show will also be playing at Vancouver Fringe and at Guelph Fringe in October, if you miss it here.

 

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.

Fringe Day Two: five more shows

Turns out that on a day I’m not volunteering and our show isn’t on, it’s easy to see five shows and still stop in at home for a snack and a shower partway through.

The first one I saw yesterday was Beware Beware, new work by David Walker, featuring Thomas Barnet and Sarah Feutl, all young local artists.  It was a fairly straightforward drama about two friends, each with some current trouble on his or her mind, meeting up for late-night drinks at a campfire site in the river valley.   Both characters were interesting to watch and credible troubled people.

Next was Flora and Fawna’s Field Trip at the Varscona, which was adorable.  Flora, Fawna, and their new friend Fleurette (Darrin Hagen, Trevor Schmidt, and Brian Dooley) play three little girls who have started a more inclusive alternative to Brownies and Guides.  The show is framed as the orientation meeting for the audience who are prospective members of the group, and the fun starts as the costumed cast members hand out materials to the audience in line outside the theatre.  There was a little bit of audience participation, and a lot of laughing and awww-ing.  The three cast members each plays a child with distinct quirks and awkwardnesses, and the interactions among the friends (“we don’t even exclude people for being too bossy” says Fawna (Trevor Schmidt) with a sidelong glance at her friend (Hagen)) were very funny.  Brian Dooley was particularly charming as a young Francophone glad to be included in her new neighbourhood even though she doesn’t quite understand what’s going on.  The uniforms of tunic, tights, beret, scarf, and badge sash were appropriately awkward.

Next up was Zanna, Don’t! by Three Form Theatre, a light musical by Tim Acito which played Off-Broadway about 10 years ago.  It’s full of pop culture references and uses all the familiar tropes of high school stories, in some kind of parallel alternate universe where same-sex relationships are the norm and heterophobia is a thing.  Music Director Mackenzie Reurink directed a small instrumental ensemble, and some of the singers were hard to hear or understand over the accompaniment.  Sarah Ormandy’s portrayal of bossy Candi was especially funny.  Mark Sinongco, who I last saw in Putnam County Spelling Bee, was the eponymous Zanna, and Adam Sanders (Full Monty) and Madeleine Knight were the scandalous opposite-sex couple.

Dogfight is another musical by a young local company, in this case Linette Smith’s Strathcona Alumni Theatre.  Chris Scott and Emmy Kate Whitehead play the leads. I’m going to see it again later in the week and I’ll have more to say about it then, but if you are interested in seeing it you should buy your tickets early, as the uncomfortable seating in Strathcona High School often sells out.

Last on my schedule for the day was Butt Kapinski, a solo show by Deanna Fleyscher from Los Angeles.  The performer takes the audience with her into creating a film-noir world, full of cliches played out in unexpected ways.  The performer, a hardboiled private eye, chooses audience members for the roles needed in the story, from murdered bodies to residents of various districts in the dark city, mostly cast cross-gender.   And now I guess I can finally say that I was on stage at the Fringe.  The show was cleverly crafted and satisfying, and I’d like to go back if I can find room in my schedule.

Mercy of a Storm, atmospheric and compassionate

The Northern Light Theatre / L’UniThéâtre co-production currently playing at La Cité Francophone is alternating between English performances and French performances, as Mercy of A Storm or De plein fouet dans la tempête. The original script by Jeffrey Hatcher was in English, and the translation was done by Gisele Villeneuve.  Trevor Schmidt is credited as director, with Isabelle Rousseau as assistant director and dialect coach.  I saw a performance in English.

The story is set on New Year’s Eve, 1945, in the pool house of a social club.  I had thought it was in a suburb somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, but the Northern Light website summary has it as the smallish city of Cambria Ohio.  The two characters, in period festive dress, enter separately and seem immediately to have some secrets from each other.  It turns out that Gianna Vacirca’s character Zanovia and Brian Dooley’s character George are estranged spouses, ostensibly meeting to negotiate their divorce settlement.  I was confused at first – I thought that when Zanovia talked about slipping away from Morrie, she was referring to a current husband and was having an affair with the other character in the play.  And I didn’t immediately catch on that when George was talking about being caught between Tootie and Zanovia, he was talking about his daughter.  Part of why this was confusing was that their unconventional arrangement had Zanovia continuing to live in George’s house along with his grown daughter, while George had been away on the Continent for post-war business negotiations.

I also didn’t figure out right away that Zanovia was somewhat of an outsider in the “club” scene, having been tolerated as George’s wife but coming from a background of having been the daughter of Polish immigrants, George’s family housekeeper and her labourer husband.  Once I began to pay attention, I saw reference to class/culture differences everywhere.  Zanovia’s rant about Tootie and her friends and their silly made-up names, George calling her Zan, Morrie being the first Jewish visitor or member in the club, and so on.

While they are discussing the prospective divorce settlement, we also learn more about the history of their marriage, the role played by Tootie, and their mixed feelings about each other in the present.  They are obviously both attracted to each other, but will they get together? Will they reconcile?  The outcome is poignant and thought-provoking.

I liked this play.  It was more subtle than the previous atmospheric period drama in the Northern Light season, Bitches and Money 1878.  I don’t know the name for the decor shown on set, possibly Danish Modern, all straight lines and blond wood, but it definitely created the context of wealth and looking-forward in 1945, and the music and Matt Schuurman’s video background bits added to the film-noir mood.

Tickets for both French and English performances are available through Tix on the Square here.  The last English performance is Sunday evening March 16th.

Bitches and Money 1878

After Richard III, my next playgoing was to Northern Light Theatre’s production of Martin Henshell’s Bitches and Money 1878, directed by Trevor Schmidt.  It was a pleasant change.  I don’t know how to describe the genre of this show.  Maybe “period dark comedy heist story”? “Steampunk feminist version of Oceans Whatever”? “Betrayals and plot twists”?  The publicity materials call it “about gambling, greed, and time travel”.

It was confusing and fun.  I don’t think I got answers to all my questions about the plot, but I’m not sure whether they weren’t spelled out explicitly enough for me or whether they just weren’t explained.  But it didn’t really matter.

If the title wasn’t enough to set the period and approximate location, the audience entering the PCL Studio Theatre had time to study a shallow dark-wallpapered room with a hand-drawn map of London, the external pipes of gas heating fitted to an older building, ornate fussy furniture, ominous music, and oh!  some characters I didn’t even notice at first.  Black Jack (Ben Goradetsky) is seated facing the audience, looking down at a big pistol in his hand, shifting position occasionally and adjusting the gun.  He’s hard to miss because he’s wearing a vividly-yellow plaid suit, and his black-rimmed eyes add to the sense of menace.  A few minutes later I noticed two female characters, seated on opposite sides of the stage, both sitting completely still, apparently with hands bound behind them, and with bags over their heads.  Seeing the stage populated before the play starts always makes me curious but a bit uncomfortable – should I pretend not to see them? what if they make eye contact or talk to me like in snout? or (as in Ride) are they really naked under there and should I pretend not to be wondering about that?

The lights dropped and came up, and we saw Black Jack interacting with his two accomplices, Cora (Laura Gillespie),  wearing a dramatically sexy black and red outfit that I thought of as “Dawson-City Showgirl” and Patience (Andréa Jaworsky) wearing a severe black walking suit with a small dented hat decorated with a few gears.  Aha, I thought, could this be a steampunk inventor?  One of the best things about this show was the contrasts between the two women and the ways in which each character moved beyond the archetypes seen in the first few minutes.

The story gets told in a series of scenes arranged in non-chronological order.  This is made more clear by numbers projected on the wall between scenes, which seemed to be the order in which they happened.  The setting was fun, the alliances and mistrusts and twists were not completely predictable, and the show was fast-paced with lots of repartée.

Playing until Nov 30th, with a late-night “Booty call” show Nov 29th, tickets through the Fringe Box Office.