What motivates a man to
be so cruel to a woman? This is one of the questions asked by
Stuart Scadron-Wattles as he directs this bold new adaptation
of Patrick Hamiltons classic thriller, Angel Street,
now playing at Theatre & Company in Kitchener. This
Victorian stage mystery (filmed by George Cukor in 1944 under
the name of Gaslight, and garnering an Oscar for Ingrid
Bergman) has been given a modern bent. Set in present-day London,
Wattles has arch-villain Manningham forcing his entire household
to live as Victorians. This concept allows the audience to explore
the many parallels between the two eras. In this production power
and control are exerted through drug use and psycho-sexual manipulation,
a creative and successful move by Wattles.
-----Years after a robbery-murder, the criminal returns to the scene, with a new identity and bride, and moves into the house. Manningham carefully tries to drive his wife insane, while continuing his aborted search for valuable jewels hidden by the murder victim somewhere in the house. Mrs Manninghams only clue to his machinations is the frequent dimming of their gaslights. She comes under the protection of Rough, the detective involved in the unsuccessful investigation of the original crime, who suspects Manningham has already murdered once. Aiding Rough are the two housemaids, Nancy and Elizabeth.
-----The juxtaposition of eras is accomplished by several inventive devices. At one or two instances we hear aircraft noise, as if the home were located near a modern airport. In another scene, the maid is caught hastily hiding a cordless phone under her Victorian apron. Conversely, Detective Rough, a modern-day visitor, carries a pocket watch. DArcy Poultneys set and costumes are a visual feast. The translucent lace walls of the Victorian sitting room allow several interesting "behind-the-scenes" scenes to expand the plays depth. His costumes and furnishings effectively create a world that is both contemporary and Victorian, deliberately blurring the period distinctions, and contributing to the sense of Bellas paranoia.
-----While the production values of the play as a whole were remarkable, the casting diminished the effect. Too young for the role in the first place, Mike Pengs Manningham is excessively mannered and artificial. Every scene he is in (and that is most) is painfully slow, and lacking palpable tension, whereas Linda Bush, as wife Bella, handles her difficult role moving between dreams, frightened insanity and cool vengeance with accomplished skill. Company member Kathleen Sheehy plays housemaid Elizabeth and, in her T&C debut, Stephanie Arango fails to conquer the role of sleazy, coke-snorting maid Nancy, further diminished by her inconsistent accent. Theatre & Company veteran and the always reliable Alan Sapp plays Columbo-detective Rough.
-----Although unquestionably an enjoyable interpretation of this classic, the two-and-a-half-hour production needs a pep pill to boost tension. Angel Street is playing at Theatre & Companys Water Street Theatre in downtown Kitchener until November 23. For tickets ($19 or less) phone the box office at 519/571-0928.
-----Why adapt a perfectly good Victorian thriller? Why twist the characters and muddy the waters? What do I hope to gain by "explicating" the play with a prologue and epilogue, by intensifying the sexual and drug use content of the original, by tightening some of the language?
-----In the first place, Angel Street is not Victorian. Patrick Hamilton wrote it in 1938, using the setting of Victorian London to give an atmosphere of repression for his story. Hamilton began by borrowing another time for his story. We are borrowing yet another for his play.
-----For me, it began by noticing how many times the two men in the play tell Bella and Nancy to "go to bed." I then began to look at the gender assumptions in the play. In the original version, there are two types of men: The manipulative scoundrel (Manningham) and the kindly father figure (Rough). The women are likewise divided into virtuous (Belle and Elizabeth) and nefariously erotic (Nancy).
-----While the story is filled with interesting twists and explorations of the relationships between men and women, the narrative underneath-- the basic assumptions-- would not hold. I began to ask "what if" questions:
-----What if the setting were contemporary London, in an older home, and Manningham, a contemporary man with a yearning for things Victorian, decided to dress up the women in his household. Bella is thus made to believe that she is in more romantic and sheltered setting. Manningham hires two maids: Nancy, a former street girl who does the clubs, and Elizabeth, the older one who will do the windows and the dusting. He of course, has no idea that the latter is an undercover policewoman.
-----What if Rough were not the avuncular figure played by Leo G. Carroll in the Broadway production, but a burned-out private investigator who had been unable to close the case on this earlier crime, witnessed when he was still a police sergeant? What if we explored the parallels between Bella and Nancy, both of whom are "acquired" by Manningham for his own ends?
-----My questions began to provide me with some answers. The ending of the original script, for instance, does not make sense for our times. Bella is given this wonderful monologue of revenge, after which she
-----stands apart, trembling with homicidal rage. ROUGH takes her by the shoulders sternly... He slaps her across the face. She is momentarily stunned. ELIZABETH enters, gets a glass of water, brings it down to MRS. MANNINGHAM and gives her a drink. Her wild fury has given way to weeping.
-----Men and their servants, snapping women out of their "inappropriate" emotions. Civilization conquers all. We do not subscribe to that narrative any more. The new narrative I was exploring suggested a different ending, without needing to change the text. In fact, it is a contemporary reading of the text which was suggesting the new narrative.
-----But does Angel Street support another narrative, one in which Bella attempts liberation, one in which the correspondence between the married woman Bella and the hired maid Nancy is explored, one in which salvation is attained at a price?
-----I began to construct a prologue and epilogue, using a Rossini aria as a background. (The Italian text of this aria from Maometto II begins: "Righteous Heaven, in such danger there is no counsel and no hope to be found....") Designer D'Arcy Poultney and I dreamed up a world which was both contemporary and Victorian, deliberately blurring the period distinctions in costume and furnishings to give us a feel for Bella's condition and in order to allow us to transcend the time period and concentrate on the narrative. D'Arcy designed a set which allows us to see through walls to action which occurs outside of the room. This both gives us some sense of Bella's paranoia and tells us that there is a world beyond this room which is behaving differently.
-----What are we saying? Is there a message here? I hope not. Artists may need to deliver, but that does not make us couriers.
-----Is there meaning? I certainly hope so. I hope that we have left our audience enough important touchstones to find appropriate meaning for themselves. This thriller deals with a man who is using his wife to his own ends. Her medical history and need for love makes her vulnerable, and he uses that vulnerability. But how is it resolved? How is justice done?
-----A thriller is intended to expose us to vicarious danger. In so doing, it usually exposes its protagonists to the threats of our society and then defuses or explodes those threats by whatever means the writer believes will save us. How is Bella saved from Manningham? How will she guard herself in the future, or can she? What is Nancy left with at the end? My belief is that if our audience members use our production and their imaginations to answer these questions for themselves, they will gain far more than if I tried to explain.
-----Our production of Angel Street is not for those who believe that art should be as easy as popcorn, those who are addicted to dramatic naturalism. (If you are a first-time visitor to Theatre & Company, you should know that we do not often adapt pieces in this deconstructive manner; we just reserve the right to do so.) When D'Arcy-- who lives in Halifax-- first saw the run through of the prologue early this week, he said: "Well. I'm confused. That's good." Our purpose is not to conceal or confuse, but we do intend to provoke our audience to uncover meaning for themselves. The prologue signals that.
-----Having told you what the play is not, at least intentionally, I leave you to decide what it is, and whether it is necessary theatre. Thank you for coming to see and to hear for yourself.
Theatre & Company concludes their seventh season of creativity, risk and imagination, with something very different: a musical, their first in three years, and a very different musical at that. The Case Of The Curious Cabaret, by Torontonians Greg Finnegan and David Walden, provides a comic slice of musical mystery, replete with femmes fatales singing and sleuthing their way through all sorts of intrigue. A zany departure for K-W's resident theatre ensemble, the play chronicles the adventures of the 3B's - all students at the Wakefield School for Blondes - who solve lots of mysteries, Nancy Drew-style, and sing. A lot.
The play is replete with tunes from the 1930s and into the '50s; we had almost forgotten how much fun some of those classics were: The Woodpecker Song, Canadian Sunset, Orange Coloured Sky, Hard Hearted Hannah, Mr Sandman, Bye Bye Blues, are only a few of the twenty-plus in the score.
Director Alan K. Sapp describes the piece as "Forever Plaid with an all-girl cast and a plot....[with] lots of twists, and the mood is definitely retro. What makes the piece different from standard musical fare is the fact that we're seeing and hearing the story unfold as the author creates it." Initially reluctant to direct what co-author Walden has described as "a piece of fluff," Sapp soon recognized the potential fun in Curious Cabaret. As artistic director Stuart Scadron-Wattles suggests, "put your intellect down on the seat next to you, and enjoy!" We did.
Company member Kathleen Sheehy plays Corinne, the mystery-writer with writer's block, who desperately turns to the characters she has created for help in finishing her story. As Corinne clacks one cliche after another onto her ancient Underwood, the 3B's act out each chapter, in a developing plot often interrupted with song in harmony. Breakneck costume and scene changes are facilitated by stagehand "waiters." Appearing every minute or so, at first these interruptions were an irritant, but soon the waiters (and the audience) are integrated into the other foolishness in the story and contributed laughs aplenty. The plimsoled gumshoes, a.k.a. the 3B's, are played by local guest artists Catia Cyr, Judith Bean-Hornett and Laura Wilson in a sweet-voiced though under-powered Andrews/Lennon Sisters style, sometimes posing as the tough 'n readier Keen Sisters. Cyr is particularly successful as a française à la cockney, cracking jokes and spicing her Gallic accent with British colloquialisms. Standout Sheehy steels the show singing and acting in multiple roles of both genders, while both stagehands (Andrew Lakin and David VanBelle) camp hilariously throughout the second act.
Set and costume design is by D'Arcy Poultney, lit by Stuart Scadron-Wattles. Corinne's rolling workstation usually occupies centrestage, with the Opal Club/Lucky Strike Club, resplendent with glittering backdrop, downstage. Flanking are the multi-purpose pharmacy/jeweller/salon and the bay window from the Wakefield academy, through which we see the "orchestra": pianist Phyllis Halverson and bassist Neil Light. Quite a squeeze in the intimate Water Street Theatre space.
Scadron Wattles describes the play as "better enjoyed if one treats the plot more as a theme than as a narrative vehicle. Making sense of the mystery is not what Curious Cabaret is all about. It's about having fun with the genre itself."
A cheerful conclusion to a spirited season.
The Case Of The Curious Cabaret runs Thursdays through Saturdays until May 10, 1997 at 8:00 p.m. nightly in the Water Street Theatre in downtown Kitchener. Tickets are $23 or less, plus GST, and Thursdays are half-price for students and seniors. For reservations, call the Theatre & Company Box Office at (519)571-0928. While you have them on the phone, order your subscriptions now for the coming season (comprising The Clearing, Some Assembly Required, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Waiting for Godot and Shadowlands) - ask for the Opening Night Package, for the best post-production receptions in the region!
If David Mamet's work
is about the darter side of capitalism, then Eugene Stricklands
Sitting on Paradise is oddly about the lighter side. An
excellent comedy by a contemporary Albertan playwright, Sitting
On Paradise is about Roy (Alan K. Sapp) who has rediscovered
his masculinity by dancing to the boat of a drum with spiritual
guide and hippie throw-back, Wolf (Mike Peng). All is well
until Wolf has a vision which involves developing Roy's land (with
Roy's money} into a new age re-treat. Only problem is, Roy must
win the ap-proval of his high-society wife, Dotty (Linda Bush)
and wean her of her materialistic ten-dencies. To do this, he
convinces her to sell her favourite, Swedish-made, brown couch.
"The couch," elevated on a platform behind centre stage,
takes on new meaning; it is as sacred to Dotty as the native stones
in the forest are to Roy and Wolf.
----- The opening scene between Roy and Wolf talking and dancing in the woods is worth the price of admission. Sapp and Peng have between them a dynamic, a rhythm, that can only be developed through continued, professional interaction with each other. For that is what Theatre and Company prides itself onbeing a small but ambitious theatre company in the heart of a city which desperately needs something small but ambitions in its downtown. The company maintains an ensemble of actors who work together season after season. Four out of the five cast members in this seventh sea-son opener are seen regularly on the compa-ny's stage.
----- From the moment Sitting on Paradise opens with Talking Heads music blaring loudly, we know it is going to be a comedy. But like the band's lyrics, this is a campy, clever com-edy with underlying social commentary. After all, 'meaning' is far more palatable when we are made to laugh at it ... and ourselves.
----- In this case, the bull's eye Stickland takes aim at is social status and material wealthyes, an easy target. But what Strickland does is clever, maybe even genius. No one in the play is really who we would assume them to be: the hippie is the most greedy and manipulative but sympathetically so; the business man is honestly searching for spiritual enlightenment which makes him vulnerable, and ironi-cally selfish; and the superficial caricatuare for a wife surprisingly turns out to be the most insightful and stable of the bunch.
----- Dotty almost succeeds in triumphing materialism. Sure, we all ride a high moral ground. We want to save the trees, reduce urban sprawl and save the environment. We all look down on the lavishly wealthy for their unapologetic accumulation of stuff and status. But let's face it, we'd trade them in a second given the opportunity to revel in such comforts. As Wolf discovered long ago, there's nothing noble about having nothing to eat.
----- As Roy, Sapp plays an excellent geek and seeing him in shorts and knee socks might al-most type-cast him as such. Bush as the golf-playing Dotty initially frightened me with her dippy head tilting and dislocated hip stance. But as the character evolved, so does Bushs portrayal. Bush is a graceful, elegant, beautiful woman and gradually turns Dotty into just that.
----- If there is one problem with this play, made even more evident in this production, it is that it ends with a thud. In fact, it doesnt really end at all; the characters are left looking at each other dumbfounded, awkward and almost muttering. But this is also a play still in developmentas of yet unpublished. Playwright Stickland tells me he plans some reworking before it opens again in Calgary and later next year in Vancouver. One moment of hilarity I wouldn't want him to touch however is when Dotty asks, "Have you ever been to Sweden, Warren?" and Warren answers solemnly, "No, but Ive been it IKEA."
Theatre & Company has found another
rarely-performed play, brought it to their Kitchener stage, and makes us wonder
why. But this time, the why is "Why is this jewel so rarely performed?"
Our only two previous experiences, Philemon and Saucy Jack, with
this small but dedicated theatre had led us to expect another fringe
piece for a very select audience. We were wowed!
-----Marsha Normans Traveler in the Dark is a timely, provocative, and warmly humorous play that deserves, and no doubt will now receive, more exposure. Norman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her most popular piece, night Mother, and on those laurels went on to produce Traveler in the Dark the following year. It was not well received, and fell into obscurity. Rescued and directed for T&C by the companys artistic director, Stuart Scadron-Wattles, it comes alive, featuring one of Canadas foremost actors, Ted Follows, regular company members Alan K Sapp and Linda Bush, and young discovery, Lawrence Widdifield.
-----In this story of mid-life crisis and the conflict of faith and reason, Sam (Sapp) a brilliant surgeon, his wife Glory (Bush) and son Stephen (Widdifield) return to their small hometown for the funeral of Sams devoted nurse, with Sams preacher-father, Everett (Follows) officiating. The nurse, who was born the same day as Sam and grew up fully expecting to marry him one day even if she had to outlive Glory, had remained a dear friend of the entire family until her sudden death on Sams operating table. As the family assembles in grief, Sam announces he is leaving Glory, taking Stephen, and making a new start, somewhere, anywhere, to escape his past, his failures, and the expectations placed upon him by family and profession.
-----Its a voyage of rediscovery for Sam, and the reopening of old wounds from his childhood. Sams faith, instilled in him by his revivalist father, had long ago been shattered by the unfair and unexplained death of his mother, and he was resolved never to mislead his son with the religious pap his father preached and fairy tales his mother cherished. Now young Stephen is confronted with his first experience with deaths unreasonable grasp, the irreconcilable conflict between his father and grandfather, and the impending separation of his parents. Through it all, however, Glory stands quietly firm, supporting yet insisting, sure that Sam will come to his senses.
-----Its a beautifully crafted play that, through a carefully paced and gentle atmosphere, envelops the cold and hardened hearts with a warmth that we somehow know will triumph in the end. There are revealing moments as we recognize in ourselves the same conflict of faith and reason, and wonderfully humorous exchanges that soften the pain, ease the tension.
-----Follows is a treat to watch, at times the staunch defender of his faith, at others the loving grandfather. Saap carries off a difficult role perfectly, gradually coaxing our sympathies, as we slowly come to realize the troubles wracking his soul. Bush remains elegantly dignified, in control. Bush, the wife of Theatre & Companys artistic director and one of the founders of the company, has recently garnered the K-W Arts Award. Young Widdifield, a 13-year-old student, took a little longer to loosen upit was opening nightbut by the second act was very much into character.
-----Traveler in the Dark plays only until March 2 at the Water Street Theatre in Downtown Kitchener (near the Sears Value Mall on King Street). Its such a good play, and such a short run, we can only hope it is held over. To find out, and for tickets, call 519-571-0928.
masterpiece of the theatre, Uncle Vanya, has been
translated by several authors. David Mamet's adaptation, currently
at Theatre & Company, has been hailed as "simply, plainly
wonderful" by the Boston Globe.
-----This gentle story encompasses the themes of ageing, uselessness and unrequited love. The story is essentially that of an uncle (Vanya) with a frustrating passion for a lovely young lady (Yelena), who is married to an old and ill man (Professor Serebryakov). She in turn is attracted to a doctor (Astrov) who attends her husband. And Sonya, the young miss of the house (her stepdaughter), in her turn is irrevocably and hopelessly in love with the same doctor.
-----"The challenge of producing [classics]," according to director Stuart Scadron-Wattles, "is that our audience is like most North American audiences: they are for the most part not interested in theatre history. This means that, when we produce a classic, we must find out why it belongs as a contemporary piece of imaginative work. What makes it come alive for our audience today? Why should someone come to see it?"
----- To answer his own question, the talented and innovative Scadron-Wattles has developed for Theatre & Company a production set in contemporary time and, though maintaining a few Russian touches, in no particular locale. Another evocation of the ambivalence of time and place is the incidental music selected, ranging from moody jazz to Louie, Louie (replacing the obscure Russian folk tune in Act II). Staging the production in the round further brings the audience into the action, as we watch not only the action on stage, but the reaction of fellow audience members facing us across the stage.
-----Chekhov intended the audience to empathize with richly bittersweet and deeply human characters. T&C's company mainstays, Alan Sapp, Mike Peng, and Linda G. Bush, carry the principal roles, with mixed results. Sapp, as Uncle Vanya, resembles the disillusioned Baby Boomer of this contemporary production, and, as we have come to expect from him, fulfils the role while keeping the whole thing from sinking into a Chekhovian abyss. A tough assignment, indeed. Meanwhile, Peng, who has never impressed us, continues that tradition as Dr Astrov. His halting delivery, even in a contrived and drunken barely-clad scene, failed to spark the audience. Bush, dressed by costume (and set) designer Rebecca Hodgson, looked ravishing in the role of Yelena...but it was a visual feast that left us hungry for emotional sustenance.
-----And while recent pre-opening press in the local media led us to expect great things from guest artist George Joyce as the cantankerous and pompous professor, he fell flat amidst his blustering bombasts. The character is, in other productions, one of broad comedy. Joyce, a local high school teacher, brings the pomposity, but fails to win a laugh. However, another guest artist, Melissa Good, plays an ingenuous and endearing Sonya. Good's talent lifted the calibre of any scene she appeared in.
-----Supporting the main players are Peggy Wrightson (Marina, an old nurse), Andrew Lakin (Waffles, a hanger-on Beatnik), Doris O'Dell (Mariya, Vanya's mother) and Stephen Gartner (a workman).
-----Scadron-Wattles reminds us that "Chekhov wrote humour for the humble. His characters are ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. His gift is that of getting us to identify them as interesting people, characters whose lives matter to us."
-----Although Scadron-Wattles is to be commended for taking risks, unfortunately Chekhov's intentions are, like his characters, unfulfilled in this production. Uncle Vanya plays Thursdays through Saturdays until March 1 at the Water Street Theatre in downtown Kitchener. For tickets, call 519/571-0928.