Monday, January 25, 2010

Conceiling Light, by Geoffrey Heaney, Studio 107, Brock 23.01.10

Nice one you guys. This text, written by Heaney features the tale of an earnest young hunter of evil travelling off into some nasty nether regions or other to destroy some vampires. It is witty, intelligent, well-paced, and well performed. Some solid work here from the actors and dancer. The engaging 20 minute pre-show involves Becca Pleschke, (la danseuse), Rachel Wade (la vampire), and Caitlin Popek (la tres tres vielle Vampire) preparing us for the skilled performance work that will come: full engagement with action, clarity, shifts of energy as alliances form and break between these women, and comedic moments as they together begin looking at specific spectators or change moods abruptly. Nathan Tanner McDonald arrives on stage, and they're off. I can't stress enough how well these young actors and their director are using the training they're receiving to create subtle and mercurial shifts, stops, and pauses in the action, all enabled by Heaney's intelligent script, which sets the audience up for something stern or serious, then upsets this with a quick 180 of into a different direction.

The comedy throughout revolves around the conceit that the vampires onstage precede Christianity and so aren't necessarily injured by the clichéd bag of tricks often bandied about by on screen Buffy's and the like (garlic, crosses, etc), leading the young hero to look foolish in his attempts to do in the vampire. Nonetheless he persists, eventually building a pentagram on stage and seemingly doing all the baddies in. One of the things that struck me about this piece is the vision, based on his historical reading and study, informing Heaney's exploration of the need for ritual on stage. There are some truly symbolist moments when the spectator feels that they are somewhere between a séance with Madame Blavatsky and the more interesting parts of Stephanie Meyer's imagination that she herself hasn't quite accessed yet. And all this very well balanced tonally, so that we go into a long and well delivered monologue by Popek that betrays her character's age (and perhaps attendance at the openings of some Beckett shows over her 2500 year life), then flip quite nicely into an ironic consideration of what has just preceded with one well delivered syllable ('So,' I think it was) by the Vampire. The longer dance sequence is similarly interesting.

If there's work to be done here it's probably in the general maturation of the actors, which will happen naturally over time, but they are at the top of their game for the level of training they have. Textually Heaney has to be careful that that same ironic reversal of tone I refer to above doesn't end up being used too frequently, or in too pronounced a fashion, as it many become slightly monotonous. Involving the audience somewhat more in the ritualized aspect (even if it is question of ackowledging our presence more throughout as they do in the pre-show) may be a way to bring this out to a larger audience as Heaney expressed that he intends to.

All in all, a rich exploration, well-performed, and the sense of a real theatrical voice beginning to emerge.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Crack by Sky Gilbert, 4555 Queen St. Niagara Falls, 22.01.10 or SHOW ME YOUR KEYSTER WHY DON'T YOU!

Jason and Stephanie once again gang up with Sky Gilbert, and then, in a way, collectively gang up on their audience! Bless. Lots to talk about this piece, as any piece, although sometimes our learning is motivated by negative capability, yes? I was actually really looking forward to this show, I had the memory of Hardways that Jason had written and performed about a year ago at the Courthouse in St Catharines. The guy's actually a pretty darned good actor, although I'd really enjoy seeing the result of him being pushed hard by an acting trainer or very capable director and have him go beyond a certain Comfort Zone of Charm that he often incarnates on stage.

But hey, I'm getting ahead of myself. Dee Jones opened the show with a short piece that she began creating a few ago back at a One Yellow Rabbit summer intensive. She began by walking through the audience in the café/bar (comprised of the local theatre hipsterati and NFalls emerging scenesters), doing some good clown work, engaging the audience with that disarming, shameless, open thing that she does very nicely (the Gaulier training is in evidence here!). The conceit was that she was amazed at all the people in the audience, at their presence, particularity, and singularity. This revelation then prompted her to go into a series of transformations, many of which were rather incosistent and unclear, where she took on a variety of different people, focusing on snippets of poetic moments of their lives. Some nice poetry in here actually, one section in particular when she was playing a nold woman washing dishes: "I've washed so many dishes that my hands are transparent. When I read my palms I now know that I'm headed towards the light," or something to that effect. Some nice physical prescision and choices. The general framing could have been clearer as well, and so, despite the moments that worked, I was left kind of underwhelmed. Ultimately it felt more like an exercise that was incomplete, and that perhaps Dee had done a whole series of short pieces to privilege the trope of transformation and the kinds of virtuosity and juxtaposition that it can entail, or perhaps she had created short pieces because of an inability to create longer work. A kind of performed micro-Shortcuts à la Raymond Carver. Want to see more from her.

So, on the the show proper. Well, Monsieur Gilbert may describe himself as a gay homme de lettres, mais il faut dire que cet homme çi souffre d'un certain manque de talent litéraire. Crack is basically une pièce a thèse on the subject of, well, cracks, that is somehow awkwardly roped into the an orbit with the theme of addiciton. Jason's charcater's addiction to, well, crack, and other subtances clearly provides a useful dramaturgical device to allow for his circumlocutory investigation of all the different kinds of cracks (and like a good schoolteacher, Monsieur Gilbert provides us with signposting summaries of the ways in which we can conceive of cracks at various key points throughout). But this kind of laissez faire approach to the unfolding of the story doesn't leave one particularly engaged throughout, and after about 15 minutes my mind was wandering until the next provocative subject was invoke and I found myself leaning forward a somewhat in anticipation of the next (micro)shock. Gilbert does use the occasion to make some well needed points on the subject of women's exclusion ("they're just called cunts, slits, cracks") and entrapment in sexist discourses, as well as some humorous pointing out of our fear and anxieties around the abject.

The piece is peppered with garden-variety theatrical reflexivity (theatrum reflexivus vulgaris), such as Steph's declaration that she can't speak because she's written by a man, which is also engaging, at least because the shouting draws you back into the piece. Ultimately though, there's no poetry to speak of in the play, no awareness of rhythm in the language, or in the narrative flow. No sense that there's a real writer or poet behind it, simply an astute social critic. With all this talk of cracks, one of Steph's characters begins to taunt Jason to show his ass, which ultimately after a good build up he does, but : the lights go out at the same time! I mean, if you're going to give it to us is such a literal and unsubtle fashion all evening people, why shy out at the end?!! Not that I want to see Jason's ass necessarily, but it would have actually made the play more internally coherent and consistent if we all just had to sit there and stare at his big 'ole CRACK until people started getting uncomfortable and started to leave. But then, they wouldn't have sold many more drinks at the bar would they...

Jason is quite good, but I've seen him better. Steph, who I often find to be wooden, has a couple of sincerely great moments as Delilah the crack whore, and also later as a drunker bar patron. I really felt like I did see her ur-strength as an actor come through when she disengages her relationship with the motion factor of space. The stuff with the old lady was pretty rough though, felt like Am Dram night for both of them.

Although promisingly Rabelaisian at points, this piece is ultimately quite weak.

Spare me, Jayzus I have another show to see today, I hope it's better!