My Theatre

19 August 2014

SummerWorks ’14: Part 4

By // Theatre (Toronto)

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and our Full Listing of SummerWorks 2014 reviews.

New This Year: The My Theatre Favourite Discount 
If your Fringe or SummerWorks show scores an A+ or A, you can cash in on that goodwill with a 50% discount on advertising your next show on My Entertainment World. If you scored an A- or B+, we’ll knock 25% off the ad price. Discounts also apply to all past My Theatre Award winners (50% off), and nominees (25% off) in Toronto, Boston or New York. Email kelly@myentertainmentworld.ca for details on how to promote your next show.

shadowps_08-CopyThe Water Thief (A)
The bright smiles and gentle humming of joyful conversations before the show is a lot less apprehensive than I am used to, as if the white fabric of the charming projection screen has magically signaled a nostalgic return to the past.

Sean Frey and Amy Siegel are the creative duo behind the quaint story of Charon (Bertholet Charron) – a real life eighty-year old man who keeps up a clepsydra (“water thief”): a giant water-run clock. Having formed The Twelfth House (2012) together, the two artists choose to explore the intersection of audience-immersed theatre, projection, and film, among other mediums.  Having witnessed several of their exciting short films and innovative projection work at various community arts functions throughout the city, this piece seems to demonstrate a most refined integration to date of the diverse mediums they love to play with.

The natural geography of Rockport, New Brunswick forms the backdrop of the film. The almost vacant town – once the site of a prosperous quarry – and the beached whale buried and forgotten in a local cove are facts that compliment the videos discourse on memory, beautifully capturing Charon travelling across long stretches of natural settings to keep up the shrines set up in honour of villagers bygone, as if he is desperately trying to avoid the plague of disremembrance.

The real feature of the show is how the video is manipulated from behind by way of live performers who appear as quickly as they disappear (like shadows), giant moving puppets, and intense backlighting. Siegel adequately describes it as “live cinema.” I am not surprised to discover Clea Minaker listed as director of performance.  Minaker has taken the world by storm since graduating from the International Institute of Puppetry Arts in 2005.  The result is a series of stage pictures as stunning as they are intriguing, including what appears to be a giant blinding firebird, slowly moving as if inching towards the audience. Eventually performers move beyond the curtain onto centre stage to share a real-time ritual (mimicking that of Charon) involving the placement of a woodcarving and candle, and the burning of sage. The cherry on top of this old-fashioned sundae? A team of musicians and vocalists including the members of Snowblink (Daniela Gesundheit, Dan Goldman) that effortlessly draw us into this unique little tale.

HERO-LBaker_Perv_Face_300dpi-small-620x500Fuck You! You Fucking Perv! (B+)
The one-women piece unfolds as a series of explosive, “sometimes shocking” vignettes.  While originally summarized as an exposé on the effect of pre-mature sexualisation, I felt the piece actually spoke more generally to mental illness, and society’s frequent misunderstanding of those whom it affects. After all, the Perv addressed in the title appears to be any one of the members of the police force, oblivious to the needs of the schizophrenic victim, embodied by Montreal-based artist Leslie Baker with the right doses of earnestness and weakness.  She is such a powerhouse it’s hard to believe she is up there alone.

Accompanying her is a haunting sound score (Peter Cerone and Sam Wylie) whose beats take us on a rollercoaster ride and create the violent world that the protagonist desperately treads through.  Here’s a sense of some of the striking detailed imagery created by Baker. A pill jar is desperately opened and out come enchanting doves (or so I imagine) – relief at last!  Tiny paper puppets line a stark white table only to be devoured by a sexual predator with gusto! A crinoline-induced woman is forced into submission with the sound of a zap-zap-zap. Even the stage manager (Kate Hagemeyer) is carefully choreographed into the wings as she cunningly drops down manually rigged props like a purse and feathers that float down from the sky to cover Baker; as if these items were the subconscious we acknowledge but don’t (choose to) see. Because that might be it: we try and grasp onto some sort of rationale in life, knowing that sometimes more truth is discovered within our irreconcilable minds.

While I love non-conventional drama, at times I was distracted asking myself what all these scenes were adding up to.  Would I leave the theatre with a new discovery, fact, or feeling? In fact, I managed to miss the final few moments of the play as the lights seemed to suddenly turn on.  Perhaps, an intentional choice to be abrupt: representative, again, of how our scattered minds can sometimes operate? In any case, the mind-bending physical exploration and treatment of underexplored themes are well worth the theatregoer’s time.

HERO-Trace1_72dpi-620x500Trace (A-)
Audience members enter through the cloakroom that stunningly doubles as an installation (Heather Nicol) of household treasures that evoke nostalgia, depositing their belongings along the way.  In the larger lamp-lined room (Michael Spence and Bruce Barton), people are free to choose where to set up one of the chairs stacked by the wall.  A circle is already forming in no particular order.  I prefer to sit on the floor, mostly because I’ve been sitting all day, but also because I’m curious what impact my choice will have. Performers Martin Julien and Michelle Polak suddenly begin to recall childhood memories from various corners. Not too long after, they invite selected audience members to recall their own, asking questions along the lines of “can you remember the way you took to get to school?” and “do you remember your first crush?”

What I appreciate most is that this company (Vertical City / Theatre Gargantua) did not let audience participation become staged.  In fact, the interactive portions of the greater piece could not even be described as improvised because they were so fluidly executed: pulling us in and reaching us on such a visceral level that we were left actually wanting to share, with no stage freight in sight. Polak, in particular, had this way of making you feel like you were having an intimate conversation with no one else but her.

The topics seem to get progressively chillier, proceeding to “did you ever have a bad dream?” and, finally, “did you ever see a ghost?” – for it’s not a matter of belief, but rather one of acknowledging the facts as Polak ingeniously articulates. Tying the piece together in no particular fashion are short literary and musical excerpts from sources as diverse as Mary Shelley, Frank Loesser, John Millard, and Shakey Graves. They often seem to be repetitive in tone and without purpose.

It soon becomes clear that the performers have somehow succeeded in erasing the significance of time; encouraging us instead to fully embrace the instability of our memories. And when it’s all over, you can’t help but ask if any of it really happened.

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