Terra Novella Theatre’s newest adventure, Obstacle Fest, is built on the simple, unspoken fact that some of the best theatrical moments happen when something goes horribly wrong. A single, unexpected mishap has the make-or-break ability to change the course of a play.
Obstacle Fest is a mixed-bag in terms of its comedic highs and lows. Written, directed, and acted by both newcomers and veterans of the stage, the event features many delightful actors who carried their scenes despite their particular limitations. In other moments, actors went overboard with hammed-up performances and mugging to the audience, which ended up proving that some obstacles can end up working against a play as a whole.
Truth be told, I’ve never really been one for meditation or deep introspection. I am, in many ways, quite guarded emotionally-speaking. I can be frustratingly socially-awkward and self-conscious, and so self-reflective, open-ended, and abstract lines of thinking are often quite difficult for me to embrace.
Halifax’s XOTHEATRE seems to thrive on secrecy. I had little idea of what to expect, and what preconceptions I initially had proved quickly to be incorrect. The location is a secret, and only two people can attend, (for lack of a better word), a “performance,” at a time. You get hooked up with an iPod Shuffle, headphones, and a phone number on your cell belonging to a stranger in Victoria, British Columbia, who is simultaneously doing the exact same thing as you. So start walking and prepare for further instructions.
For Torontonian Jason (Sean Hauk), life is turned upside down when a stranger named Harry (Jeff Schwager) comes knocking at his door with the news that he is Jason’s half-brother. Their father, who abandoned Jason and his mother 30 years ago, is dying of kidney failure. The news of this man’s failing health fails to have any gravitas for Jason, as does Harry’s insistence that he possesses the rare ability to be a life-saving organ donor.
With Neptune Theatre’s newest venture, In A World Created By A Drunken God, Ojibwe playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s subtly poses questions concerning morality and familial obligation. To what do we owe relationships that were never nurtured? Is it acceptable to keep what happened in the past unaddressed and unresolved?
It’s in the early hours of April 3rd, 1968 and Martin Luther King Jr is in his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In a matter of hours he will be relegated to the pages of history, branded as an idyllic crusader for human rights and justice. If you think you have an idea as to what this play will be like, there is a likely chance you are mistaken. As described by director Ahdri Zhina Mandiela, “The Mountaintop is not only a raid on the deification of an unwilling martyr, but a poetic muse on the fragility of the human condition.”
It’s seconds into Matchstick Theatre’s newest production and lights come up on the titular Peter Fechter, dying slowly from a gunshot wound. The year is 1962 and Berlin is partitioned by its controversial Berlin Wall. Having failed like many others to make the escape from the eastern side of the city, the eighteen year-old finds himself bleeding out in the infamous no-man’s land section, (ominously referred to as the death strip). As his condition worsens, Peter becomes more all knowing about the prior events leading up to his present moment.Written by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes is based on real world events and packs a lot of story in its race against the clock.
Mirroring the play’s large social setting, Peter (played by Peter Sarty) finds his home life equally tenuous and fragile. Residing with his strict, insular father (Andrew Chandler) the pair find themselves living in uneasy silence following the abrupt departure of Peter’s mother (Rena Kossatz). Whereas it’s abundantly clear that his father feels no need to explain the reasons for her leaving, Peter remains steadfastly loyal to the ghost of her memory.
With the mystery of his mother’s absence haunting the hidden depths of his mind, the promise of a life filled with unrestricted freedom (and American porno) presents itself in the not-so distant and nearly-tangible mirage-esque entity of West Berlin. At the heart of the play’s push is Peter’s friend Helmut (Henricus Gielis). Confident to the near point of impulsiveness, Helmut is the catalyst prodding Peter into helping him orchestrate a major life-changing escape for them.
Director Alison Crosby has crafted a solid rendition of Tannahill’s original work. Finely acted, the supporting cast of Chandler, Kossatz, and Gielis revolve around Sarty’s fantastic performance. With Sarty’s sincere likability and an endearing sense of allegiance, you feel Peter’s hope as he reaches out into the dark hoping someone’s there to reach back. Equally taut as it is touching, 59 Minutes succeeds in pulling off a series of reveals while somehow finding humanity and something worth fighting for in an otherwise bleak and unfair time.
In Linden MacIntyre’s newest novel, The Only Café, we are confronted with time old question: How much do we know about the people we love? It’s a deep-running concept most of us avoid answering as it more often than not leaves us with more questions than when we began. Stretching from MacIntyre’s homeland of Cape Breton to the urban streets of downtown Toronto, The Only Café, is also an international novel. Readers are transported to Lebanon in the 1970s and early 1980s when it served as a battleground between Muslim and Christian forces. Described by the author, it’s a window into the Middle East. As the aforementioned Lebanese conflict provides the backbone of MacIntyre’s work, chances are good that you’ll gain a lot of new knowledge about the region and its tumultuous, violent past.
For young Torontonian Cyril Cormier, fears that his emotionally-distant and workaholic father, Pierre, has died are finally confirmed. Having previously vanished, a bone belonging to him is discovered after his boat mysteriously exploded in Cape Breton. A Lebanese refugee who immigrated to Nova Scotia in 1982, Pierre spent his entire life as an enigma to his son. For Cyril, his father was a man of many secrets; many of which would later come to provoke countless questions but not be around to answer. Akin to his nature, the reading of his will is equally cryptic. As Cyril and his family learn, Pierre’s dying wish is to have a memorial in the form of a roast at a downtown café ( The Only Café- a real life location, who knew?). But wait there’s more! According to Pierre, the roast is to be emceed by a person unbeknownst to all as ‘Ari.’ The request is baffling as the recently deceased was not known to have haunted such a place, nor to have much of a social life, let alone a secret friend. Pierre’s demand essentially gets brushed off by both his ex, Aggie and his current widow, Lois, leaving the roast placed on Cyril’s shoulders, he sets about to Danforth Avenue to find Ari.
In terms of narrative, MacIntyre slips back and forth between the viewpoints of Pierre and Cyril. While his work often succeeds as compelling as Cyril peels away the layers of his father’s past, there are also moments where thrills are replaced by a plodding place. The reasons for this, I suspect, can largely be traced to the fact that the story’s main characters can’t hold up the story alone. Despite their unique circumstances, Cyril and his father are made more interesting by the characters they interact with.
As far as flavour goes, they’re pretty vanilla. Working as an intern for CBC, Cyril does not contribute much to his workplace and requires ample hand-holding by his more-experienced colleagues. He finds himself largely unable to contribute to his work assignment, yet somehow manages to secure contractual work. When involved in off-record conversations, he asks if he can take notes; his logic is head-scratching. Even when he realizes his father’s life can provide a turning point in his work, he’s at the mercy of those around him who can and speak Arabic and have a working knowledge of Lebanese history. His father’s refusal to open up about his past reduces poor Cyril to arm shrugs when probed by interested parties. Cyril’s blank slate personality, however, mirrors the readers progress through the book; as Cyril gains more knowledge about his father and the world’s tense climate, so do we the readers.
Perhaps genetically, Pierre suffers a similar affliction.spite of being a lawyer representing an embattled mining company, having been recently diagnosed with cancer, and is wracked with horrifically traumatizing flashbacks of his youth in war-ravaged Lebanon, he is surprising composed and stoic. Although Pierre’s encounters with controversial figures of the past as well as MacIntyre’s near-poetic descriptions of Cape Breton are what keep us reading more, so much of Pierre’s past read like historical narrative. I kept finding myself craving more anger, greater sorrow, and an increased feeling of danger from a work founded on controversy. I know MacIntyre is more than capable of the challenge: his last work Punishment was one of 2014’s best reads. Yet, despite a clunkier than desired storyline, the Middle Eastern themes MacIntyre provides here are undeniably relevant to today’s modern times. Despite being fiction, its base on the author’s own personal experiences working with the CBC grounds The Only Café in realism. For most, it’ll educate readers on an overlooked part of the world and reinforce the grim reminder of how much war costs us all.
I searched for a way to describe why I burned through Bellevue Square, the newest work by Michael Redhill and winner of last year’s Giller Prize. Then I found a quote by José Teodoro, reviewer for Globe & Mail: “…I’d rather be lost in Redhill’s ghost story than grounded in your average slab of tasteful literary realism.” and the rest clicked into place. Surreal, taut, and cerebral, Redhill’s work is a look into the mirror and beyond.
For Jean Mason, a married mother of two and owner of a Bookshop, (tactfully entitled Bookshop), located in Toronto’s bustling Kensington Market, life is orderly and calm. Then a report comes in stating that recent sightings have been made by a woman purported to be Jean’s doppelgänger. Her name is Ingrid Fox. Jean is understandably skeptical. Then crazy encounters start happening. Witnesses present themselves to her. As the days pass, paranoia mounts and our protagonist’s static lifestyle is sabotaged. Heading to a nearby public park (yes- you guessed it, Bellevue Square), which is home to a garden variety of colourful city individuals, Jean sets up shop. Allying herself with a few of the park’s usuals, curiosity rapidly evolves into an obsessive need to know situation.
I think it is safe to define Bellevue Square as a solid example of a psychological thriller.
In the novel’s absorbing and tense first hundred pages, adrenaline courses through the pages, leaving some serious hair-raising, “what the f@ck?” moments. Theories and explanations will undeniably be ventured and it is a mystery you have to see through to its end. As Redhill’s work strides into its second half, the truth gets increasingly convoluted and head-scratchingly murky; you lift the veil of truth only to be hit by a blast of smoke. As Jean’s hunt for answers deepens, so too do questions regarding mental health and the troubled pasts of Bellevue Park’s residents. Even when the book’s overall feeling suspense has waned and your white-knuckled grip starts to slowly release, you find yourself still searching for answers in the dark abysmal rabbit hole.
Redhill’s novel is an engrossing and utterly unique experience. A refreshing venture, it reminded me as to why Canadian Fiction possesses no specific boundaries. The first work in what is called the Modern Ghosts trilogy, I doubt I’ll be the only one impatiently waiting for the next instalment.