Friday, 24 January 2014

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov - Manitoba Theatre Centre Warehouse

I could not have been more pleased to catch the opening night performance of The Seagull as my kick-off to this year's Master Playwright festival. Under the clever direction of Krista Jackson, the cast spark and bubble through the story, finding the beautiful notes of humour mixing among the boredom and melancholy that permeates these characters' lives. What I found most notable was the relevance Jackson was easily able to draw out of the text compared to contemporary life; these characters are rendered helpless by their ideal selves, constantly performing the version of themselves they want to be, despite the harsh reality that their lives are not what they make them out to be. Glimmers of recognition rippled through the audience as we recognized this very trait among contemporary society obsessed with material goods, outward appearance, and social media, while never truly connecting. 

The cast are well matched; Sharon Bajer is a comic-tragic gem as she plays the melodramatic actress Irina, while Bethany Jillard's Nina is frighteningly naieve. Tom Keenan's Kostya is strong, although I felt some moments could have used refinement and a more simple touch. 

I would be remiss not to discuss the design, which craftily created differing spaces that were simultaneously lush and minimalist; the outdoor garden scene was particularly notable for its clever use of lighting. And the sound design, with a rock-polka feel definitely contributed positively to reminding us that these characters, although aristocratic, are not the "ideal" humans of tragedy, but the flawed and simple beings who populate the comedy of every day life. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Such Creatures by Judith Thompson - Incompletely Strangled

Judith Thompson's writing is hallmarked by its unwavering focus on difficult subject matter, and Such Creatures is no different. The piece consists of two monologues; an octagenarian holocaust survivor re-visiting the locale of her internment and re-living memories of her own revolt against the oppressor, contrasted with a teenage girl inner-city Toronto fighting her way through a single substance abusing parent, high school, and rivals. Each monologue unfolds, initially in longer sections back and forth, however as the stories and the plight of each woman unfolds, the overlap grows closer, calling the similiarity of their fear to mind.

This production, the first from new company Incompletely Strangled, and directed by veteran Arne McPherson does a fair job of introducing the two women to us; initially they are miles apart, yet as their stories grow, the space between their experience shrinks. Doreen Brownstone shines as the older woman, beautifully crafting her story and pulling the audience through each moment with a magnetism that is outstanding to watch. Although some pieces of the text were referenced from a script cleverly hidden in her stack of books, this did not impact her performance whatsoever, her clarity of intent pressing forward. The younger character was played with spunk by Gislina Patterson; we were taken along her journey of fear hidden behind a tough exterior. While she hits some of the tough notes beautifully, her performance at times could have benefited from a bit of simplicity which would have given the overall performance more shape. A difficult role for any young performer, Patterson certainly shows a gem of talent I look forward to seeing develop.

The production as a whole, however, felt stunted by design. The stage was split into two halves, divided harshly not only by light, but also a 6 foot chain link fence. The older woman's side remained static and clean, while the younger's side was littered as a playground, and also had projections on the back wall. For me, the division of the set meant that not only were the transitions back and forth a bit slow rather than a ping pong match between the two women's stories I would have liked to see, but also the overall feeling Thompson crafts - that these experiences are encroaching on one another, and at their core of fear aren't at all unlike one another - was lost. I would have liked to see both women inhabit the same space somehow. Additionally, while some of the projections were compelling, others were quite heavy handed in their imagery.

All of this aside, I did enjoy the piece, and look forward to what Incompletely Strangled bring forward next!