Theatre & Company opened its 1997/98 (eighth) season on Friday with the Canadian première of Helen Edmundson's The Clearing, a gripping tale of love, politics and betrayal. One of England's best young playwrights, Edmundson's story is one of quiet power and depth set in a historically interesting Ireland of 1652. Cromwellian Ireland, the English crown, and atrocities perpetrated on Irish citizens and English sympathizers by the Roundheads and their English overlords are illuminated through a love story of two complex characters. Edmundson's use of the English Robert and Irish Maddy help the audience understand the complexities of the subject and illustrate the schism that exists till this day between the two nations. As director Stuart Scadron-Wattles summarizes, "this is a play about two individuals who believe that their love exempts them from the threat of the political and economic climate surrounding them." It is their journey that interests and moves us, and Scadron-Wattles' taut realization of this great story that enthrals us. Our only complaint: in several scenes their seems to be more silence than words, as actors shuffle about between lines.
This is a big play that demands a strong ensemble and a director that can keep it reined in. The affable Scadron-Wattles, once again proves that his enthusiasm and formidable talent can energize and cement this sometimes inconsistent company of actors. He has taken a film-like directorial approach resulting in a three-hour play that shifts like a movie with as many as 30 quick scene changes to keep the action hopping. This device allows the politics and history of the play to flourish within the confines of the love story.
The Clearing deals with a 17th century forerunner of 'ethnic cleansing,' that period in Ireland when Cromwell planted the seeds of discontent that still remain. (An anecdote in the program quoted an English news reporter coming on a gunfight between English soldiers and the IRA in the early 1970s as he asked an old bystander, "When did it start?" The old man replied, "When Strongbow invaded Ireland." Perplexed, the reporter pressed on: "When do you think it will finish?" The old man did not hesitate: "When Cromwell gets out of hell!") In revenge against those Irish, Catholic and Protestant alike, who supported the King during the Civil War, Cromwell ordered that they be 'cleared' from their homes in the fertile east to the barren and remote western Connaucht. This followed a period in which many of the English settlers, originally encouraged by their government to move to Ireland, had brought the vestiges of prosperity to Ireland and were peacefully intermingling and in some cases marrying the native Irish.
The play centres on the dilemma of Robert Preston (Mike Peng), an English landowner's son, who has married an Irish woman, Maddy (Melissa Good), had a son, and is beginning to develop his small estate. Though passionately in love with his wife, her unorthodox ways prompt him to save himself and his son when the order arrives that he too, must be cleared. Maddy, meanwhile, is resolute in finding their servant Killaine (Kathleen Sheehy), who has been abducted as indentured labour and is bound for Barbados. It is Maddy's determination in her personal appeal to the local governor (George M. Joyce) to free Killaine, and her friendship with Irish guerrilla Pierce Kinsellagh (Tim Seabrook) that instigates her and Robert's banishment. Friendship with another English couple, the Winters (Alan K. Sapp and Linda Bush) help them deal with the turmoil that lies ahead as they journey toward their destiny.
Guest artist Melissa Good (who played an intriguing Sonja in last season's Uncle Vanya) injects some lifeblood into the occasionally anemic company. Her Maddy is self-assured and proud, yet vulnerable and sexy, especially in her pleading scene with the governor. Peng succeeds admirably in interpreting the schizophrenic nature of Robert...loving and caring, but undeniably selfish. Their scenes together are well-crafted and superbly acted. Kathleen Sheehy, long a favourite at T&C, supplies many fine moments as Killaine, Maddy's friend and companion. Interestingly, the two high school teachers (Joyce and Seabrook) engaged to boost the company's cast in this large production happily also provide keen moments.
Rebecca Hodgson's sparse marble block design works well, but are so many block changes necessary? The resulting changes have only a marginal effect, while the many thirty-second blackouts seem to slow the action. During the blackouts and adding wonderful embellishment to the production is the fabulous Irish incidental music especially selected for this production.
Theatre & Company continue to be at the leading edge of innovative interpretation. They have taken Edmundson's intriguing work and given it a well-deserved Canadian première, while other theatres (and audiences) are content with another "safe" farce or overwrought drama. The Clearing runs Wednesdays through Saturdays until October 4 at the Water Street Theatre, downtown Kitchener. Tickets are $16 to $23; $8 Wednesday and Thursdays for students and seniors. To receive more information or a season brochure, call Theatre & Company's Box Office at (519)571-0928.
Christmas. Family. Fighting. Three elements unite Some Assembly Required now playing at Theatre & Company's Water Street Theatre in downtown Kitchener, where playwright Eugene Strickland is back after his well-received Sitting on Paradise that opened last year's season. Artistic Director Stuart Scadron-Wattles, in introducing Some Assembly, assures us that, although a hilarious look at a dysfunctional family's Christmas provides the substance for the play, the theme reaches far beyond the holiday season (while he reminds us that their holiday play this year is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens December 12). While Some Assembly audience members may recognize with embarrassment their own family amid the chaos on stage, Strickland's adept handling of the subject still tickles the funny bone.
The story opens in what appears to be an armed camp. 'Tis the night before Christmas, but rather than tinsel and trim, Dennis Horn's ingenious set is strung, "all through the house," with barbed wire separating the rooms and the characters that soon appear. "Ma in her kerchief" (Peggy Wrightson) is puling in her room, hiding from the light and the world, eternally suffering from "the condition." Anally-retentive Dad (Bernie Mosca) is in the living room, carefully executing the proper listening cycle of his ancient LPs, a cycle that will not at any cost be influenced by the Yule season. Holed up in the cluttered basement is son Gordon (Andrew Lakin), armed with a BB gun and dulling the pain of his recent marriage collapse with faux-eggnog (the milk has "gone off"). Trading the blizzard swirling outside for the one raging inside, older brother Walter (Mike Peng) arrives determined to celebrate a family Christmas, despite all obstacles. Walter braves the gunfire and eggnog to confront his brother as their detox ditz of a sister, Stacey (Kathleen Sheehy), appears out of the storm and in her nightgown, to "pull herself together." This colourful collection of siblings and their wacky parents presents a tableau that is both wonderfully sad and hysterically funny, culminating in an unforgettable rendition of O Christmas Tree ... at gunpoint.
Some Assembly... is a challenging play for actors as they merge hilarity with serious overtones, sometimes too familiar to be funny, but Theatre & Company's company has the depth and resources to succeed. Bernie Mosca, bearing an uncanny resemblance to AD Scadron-Wattles and who "would rather haul discarded sets to the trash than act," was persuaded by director Alan Sapp to take on the role of Dad. Mosca is charming in his low-key and persnickety portrayal of the long-suffering patriarch. Last seen in Uncle Vanya, Peggy Wrightson wonderfully interprets Mother as a Wendy-Whiner martyr, a bed-ridden hypochondriac who fails to see her contribution to the family's situation.
The spark in the ensemble is ignited by the idiosyncratic and compelling characters created by the three "children." Mike Peng has found his forte in comedy as he animates the cardboard character of Walter, engendering sincere sympathy for this stodgy replica of his father. Andrew Lakin brings boyish charm to Gordon, dumped by his wife and angry at the world. And the shining star on this lopsided Christmas tree is Kathleen Sheehy, brilliant as the drugged-up, wigged-out Stacey and providing the majority of the laughs.
Alan Sapp has done a splendid job directing this piece, injecting humour and creativity from beginning (as audience members literally have to stumble over the littered "basement" set to get to their seats) to end (in a short series of clever curtain call poses). A glance back over the program reminds us of the versatility and talents shared by all in the company, with each on-stage cast member sharing the off-stage burdens that make it all possible. Lakin doubles (triples? quadruples?) as master electrician, set construction, lighting crew, and the difficult task of props master, responsible for tracking down all those arcane LPs and mixing that disgusting yet apparently palatable egg nog. Mike Peng is also the technical director, and in set construction. And Kathleen Sheehey, apparently in a more sober mood, is costume mistress.
It may not be Christmas At Home With Kathy Lee Gifford, but it will certainly trigger memories as well as gunfire. Either way, it's a blast.
Single tickets for Some Assembly Required are priced from $16 to $23; both Wednesdays and Thursdays are half price for students and seniors, and students can purchase $8 rush seats any evening when space is available. Some series packages are still available, priced from $39 for the season's four remaining shows. For reservations or to receive a season brochure, call Theatre & Company's Box Office at (519) 571-0928.
Hailed as "one of the most noble and moving plays of our generation," Waiting for Godot is now playing at Theatre & Company's Water Street Theatre in downtown Kitchener. This is a "different" interpretation of the play whose vaudeville-country tramp presentation seems to have been unchanged since the first production in Paris. The Stratford Festival's 1996 production (remounted for 1998) prompted our review headline "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" - a line from the play that may have been Beckett's premonition for the mixed reviews it has always received. This new production directed by Stuart Scadron-Wattles, does make the proceedings more interesting and the speeches palatable. SSW also brings a comic edge to Beckett's vision of hope in tough times. Don't expect to see any "bowler hats or Chaplin pants," SSW tells us, as his Godot incorporates some major departures from the original and is set in a fantastical Mad Max environment.
Morality tale, religious allegory or nonsensical farce, it's very trendy to either love or hate this existentialist and avant-garde tragicomedy. We will take the middle road and hope not to be knocked down. Many of the lines from the oft-quoted script tell the tale: "This is becoming really insignificant," "That would have passed the time. It would have passed anyway," "It's time to go," and "I've been better entertained." Beckett tried to be ambiguous about the meaning, but religious themes pervade the script. SSW has taken this classic and spun it around, even adding canned laughter to accentuate the comedy and to surprise his actors by placing it at moments unknown to them. The laugh track becomes a player, and with the actors, interrelates with the audience like no other Godot.
The action is set on a country road, near a leafless tree, where two tramps, Estragon (Andrew Lakin) and Vladimir (Mike Peng), interestingly cast as gen-Xers, wait to keep their evening appointment with the mysterious Godot. However, neither knows for sure if Godot will come, nor can they recall exactly why they are waiting for him, or even if they are waiting in the right place or on the right day of the week. Lacking all sense of time and place, they cannot be sure what day it is or whether they have been in this spot before. Their moods swing between irritability and terror as two travellers arrive on the scene: Pozzo (Alan K. Sapp), now cast as a boomer, and his slave Lucky (Kathleen Sheehy). This is where the production takes a controversial and dramatic interpretative U-turn by casting Lucky as a female. Attired in business suit replete with briefcase and diaper bag, Lucky is referred to as him, her, and she-he (or is it "Sheehy"?) - a device that creates gender ambiguity. The director has given many interesting reasons to cast Sheehy in this role, the most valid being Beckett's own ambivalence toward women and Pozzo's "casual oppression," or rather, mistreatment of her, which "speaks to our time." Interestingly, if he hadn't cast Sheehy in this male-dominated play, it would leave this most talented company member idle for the run of this production.
As the philosopher tramps, the two Theatre & Company mainstays are both effective and sometimes hilarious. Lakin's Estragon (Gogo) is all physical dexterity and sadness. His poor aching feet are so convincingly painful that one wants to aid him. Peng's confident yet vulnerable Vladimir (Didi) is intense and melds perfectly with Lakin; they are quite a team. Their relationship and memorable performances, whether well-rehearsed or natural chemistry, is the highlight of this production.
Supporting Lakin and Peng are a trio of actors who have mixed success with their roles. Sapp's Pozzo is played as an orating boomer but his eclectic costume was so garish that it detracted from the performance. Led by Sapp, the action frequently degenerated into a parody of comedy and cartoon themes, from Tweety Pie and Sylvester to the Three Stooges. Sheehy portrays Lucky, or "Pig," as we've never seen the character before. Her cute, loveable grins at Pozzo are effective while her formidable acting talents are tested in the famous "quaquaquaqua" soliloquy that was masterfully executed leaving the audience both spellbound and confused. It must be difficult enough to memorize three pages of meaningful script - imagine the challenge when it is utter nonsense! Boy is a Gen-Y bike courier played by Marcus Mares, interpreted as a modern day messenger.
Director SSW and designer Peter Dillman have created a very different Godot, adding an interesting twist on the tree/tramp set: The setting is reminiscent of a dying world with the in-the-round stage strewn with rusted vehicular parts, the lone tree studded with garbage.
Waiting for Godot is a very famous play that provokes serious debate and creates many expectations. Theatre & Company's bizarre reinterpretation may upset "purists" but the boldness and creativity of their work is evident on the stage. Whether nonsense or brilliant writing, Waiting for Godot will leave you pondering questions for a long time.
Waiting for Godot runs Wednesdays through Saturdays, to February 28. All performances take place at the Water Street Theatre, downtown Kitchener at 8 p.m. nightly. Half-price tickets are available for students/seniors on both Wednesdays and Thursdays, and rush seats are available for students on a nightly basis. For tickets, call Theatre & Company's Box Office at (519) 571-0928.