Friday, 29 March 2013

Ride The Cyclone - Atomic Vaudeville @ MTC Warehouse

Any musical whose premise is that of dead children in an amusement park immediately sparks my interest. Morbid, I know, but a fact nonetheless. Atomic Vaudeville's production, now in its third incarnation and seeing interest from increasingly big name producers, lived up to its reputation for a wild, slightly silly, and ultimately touching ride.

Lets start with the good; again, the premise is joyfully dark, with six children in purgatory after dying in an amusement park accident in the town of Uranium, SK, led through a game to determine who will return to life by a puppet fairground game with a very creepy voice. Each child gets their opportunity to be showcased, singing a song about themselves, their hopes, their dreams, all the while making their case for being returned to life. The songs are of varying strength; the songs of Noel Gruber and Jane Doe are outstanding, while some others such as that for Ricky Potts seem to come from far left field, adding layers to the character that don't seem to be consistent with what we see from him in the bits of the show beforehand. The monologue given to Constance is very strong, but the subsequent song is only mediocre. Similarly, the choreography has its peaks and valleys; some songs are extremely clever, while others have a very unrefined feel, as though the choreography may have been strung together.

None of this, of course, takes away from the overall feel, which is like a firecracker. The cast are all very strong performers, with beautiful physical work carried through the show and its conventions. Most notable is Sarah Jane Pelzer as Jane Doe, who consistently has a dead look in her eyes, yet fully pulls the audience to her through engagement and physicality.

I'm told that some of the conventions were new for this tour of the show as it is undergoing development on its way to bigger and brighter stages. For me, the story could still use some work, but there is certainly a gem beneath this that deserves to be polished into recognition.

Monday, 4 March 2013

This Is War by Hannah Moscovitch @ Prairie Theatre Exchange

Toronto playwright Hannah Moscovitch's new work, This Is War, explores a seemingly regular operation of a group of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and the resulting inquiry. Moscovitch plays with time and place, splicing back and forth from the inquiry (in the present) to the actual events and memories of it (in the past), showing us the same scene but from multiple characters' lead in. This flipping of perspective, triangulating at the truth, is mirrored in the set design with its angles and low ceiling which stretches out over the audience.

This has a unique effect, challenging us in the audience to look past the surface response for what lies beneath in the fog of war. Reflecting, I do wish this had gone a little further; what if the truth we see from each perspective differs slightly? What more does this tell us about memory and trauma?

That aside, the production itself wasn't as strong as I'd have liked it to be. The performances were adequate, however none of the performers really shone. Nearly all felt stiff in their roles although the physical work by Ian Lake as Private Jonny Henderson is notable, shifting effortlessly between his able bodied past and his injured present.

On the whole, I wanted the piece to deal with the characters in a more balanced way; it came off as Tanya's story, whereas it should have been all of their story, their collective memory which pieces together a semblance of the truth. It wasn't quite muddy enough to truly evoke the feelings of confusion relating to such a moment in time.

Despite all this, I do feel it is worth seeing, even if only as a sparking point for further thought on the issue, the white elephant in every living room in Canada that is rarely discussed; our soldiers and their role in a war where Canada's role is questionable at best.