I went to a lot of theatre off the top of the year, and it was all really great, so you know the bar is set high for everything else this year – that’s great. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Hypneurosis by It’s Not A Box Theatre
Creative team: Torien Cafferata, Robert Grier, Kyle Kuchirka, Kelly McTaggart, Lauren Younghusband, Anna Seibel, Collin Konrath, Amberlin Hsu
As I said immediately after seeing this piece, this is my favorite thing I have seen in the theatre in a long time. That still holds true. I will admit that I am totally bias to “weird shit” that happens in theatre space. Things that maybe include non-linear, non-narrative, experiential, immersive, interactive, impressionistic, or otherwise out of the box storytelling (couldn’t resist!) and this show was definitely a little bit of all of those things.
This show was very successful at creating a palpable sense of suspended time and space and temporary community within the room like a good shroom trip. This was crafted first of all by fully utilizing the dissociative and surprising nature of the black box space rather than trying to work against it or mask it in clever scenery, and then secondly by the profound level of vulnerability and sense of trust the performers created with the audience.
The design elements were minimal, but spoke volumes, as white sheets became strange shapes in the darkness, forts, cloisters for the dead, and a heros cape. LED flashlights became life giving (or destroying) forces, as well as the functional lamps through out the space that the audience were invited to switch on to “shed light” on the scene, and the electric candles each audience member received before entering the space as their guide.
Torien played ring-leader/mad-scientist guiding us through each moment in a quietly commanding, and fluid manner. His presence was omnipresent throughout the piece as intellectual observer, but also listening to the pulse of the room with a true empathetic sensitivity. A less skilled hand may have rushed certain moments for the sake of the clock, but his ability to allow the many unexpected moments to unfold and fully bloom before guiding us onward was beautiful.
There were many beautifully synergistic moments that I would not be able adequately capture the magic of experiencing Hypeneurosis in writing, but I will share a few personal highlights: Robert’s drudgery with the necktie and sink full of water was eloquent and exquisitely executed, the touching moment when two of the audience members gathered around the crumpled girl on the floor (I’m sorry I’m not sure which performer this was) to pull off the bag on her head, stroke her hair, and reassure her of her place in the world, the black beast illuminated by the laughter and light in the fort as it crept along the edges of the room, all the candles gathered in the middle of the room with the audience and performers sitting cross legged around it starring out into the dark unknown space beyond, the long drawn out exit from the theatre space as a dream you don’t want to end.
2. Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Made Another by Theatre Howl
Creative team: Nathan Howe, Morgan Murray, Danielle Spillchen, Jared Beattie, Robert Grier, Derek Desoroches, Rowan Patel, Maureen Schimnowsky, Amberlin Hsu, Alex Hartshorn, Grahame Kent
I had to go see this show twice because it broke my heart so soundly the first time around that I needed to come back and bring my little brother to share this magical play with. When he first heard the title of the play he got a far away look in his eye and immediately started hypothesizing how he might have lost his brother and how he might be able to get him back. When he saw the poster art a solemn understanding overtook him “oh that’s how he lost him” he said looking at the gravestone.
Danielle’s performance easily made the piece as charming as it was. she was instantly loveable and relatable in her naïveté and sincere trust in the discovery of the moment. It’s hard to imagine another artist in the role that could have driven the show with such brilliant genorosity of spirit and enchanting sense of play.
The space mirrored that wonderous playfulness from the felt backdrops to the wind up toy band to the cartoonish cloud gobos to the hand drawn projections and construction paper Lillie’s lining the stage. This folky charm reminiscent of Nathan’s other work Matchstick gave the piece a rooted sense of place in the prairies in a show that otherwise felt timeless.
The use of live music throughout was effective at communicating and enriching the story greatly both as accompaniment and the musical characters as observers. Many of Derek’s hooks remained stuck in my head well after leaving the theatre while blending seamlessly without pulling too much focus during the show. There was room to go further with the interplay between performer and musician which we got a taste for at the family dance with the mechanicals in the forest style chaos.
Overall this play hit it’s mark soundly like a hot cup of cocoa after a cold romp in the snow. I hope this show goes onto breath more life into the hearts of families as it is truly a unique, heartwarming piece.
3. Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story at Persephone Theatre
Creative team: Kristen McLellan Day, Shaun Smith, and more I could not find online
My friend had a free ticket so I went to this “hockey play” fully expecting to leave depressed and alienated from another piece of Canadiana that I have no reference for. If I thought that having seen only two hockey games in my life would affect my appreciation of this show – boy was I wrong.
Shaun Smith was captivating as Theo Fleury delivering a consistently charming portrait of a man grappling with forces far greater than himself all while handling a stick and on skates to boot. I have a special place in my heart for a well delivered one person show, there is something so magical about that intimate bond of trust created between the storyteller and audience. You can feel that Shaun has been living with this piece for a long time, and the mastery shoes in his performance. No matter how depraved Theo’s life got, you were always rooting for that little kid from Russell, Manitoba.
The stage filled with a fake ice rink (still want to know what that was made of) with beautifully illuminating projection work both on the screen above the rink and onto the ice itself at times. Each item on stage felt well placed in the world created from the many water bottles, constantly changing jerseys, the rotary phone receiver emerging from the box, the numerous pucks littering the ice, and one very well timed glove drop from the rafters. The stage magic created heightened the straight forwardness of the character driven narrative without distracting with too much stage business to attend to.
Watching this show hit very close to home personally. How easy it is rationalize and reason through the turbulent seas of addictions, and the battering the relationships that choose to sail there take. Although the story wrapped up with a nice bow and positive spin, it was those haunting moments that plumbed the darkness of a man’s soul to discover how far is too far that stuck with me leaving the theatre.
In the end this show was a complete pleasure to watch all the way through, and reminded me that large house productions can still be enchanting.