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.
Ten years have passed since the original publication of Catherine Banks’ Governor-General winning drama, Bone Cage. In recognizing this decade-old milestone, Matchstick Theatre, has undertaken the task of bringing Banks’ complicated work to the stage. Under the direction of Jake Planinc, Bone Cage succeeds as a pensive, ambitious affair, replete with both hits and misses.
Set in the rural Nova Scotian countryside where forestry is king, Banks’ opening moment is one of stark, clear-cut decimation. At the heart of this damage is Jamie (Taylor Olson), a wood-processor for a lumber factory, who, after his work is done, sits and muses on the carnage perpetrated by him and his clear-cutting woodsmen. For Jamie, work and death is synonymous, cyclic, inevitable trap; seasonal work begets a life of inescapable dependency. Jamie is torn with his position in life; while he despises the duplicitous, unreliable nature of his occupation, Jamie alternatively cannot summon the courage to start a new chapter outside the only community he has ever known.
As we quickly and vividly learn, Bone Cage’s supporting cast are the root of Jamie’s situation. Every relationship and interaction spiderwebs and collides with each other, miring him further into an uncertain future. Jamie’s emotional obligations come out in stressful spades. There’s his strained relationship with his half-sister Chicky (Jessy Matthews), the fear he harbours towards providing for his starry-eyed, young future-bride Krista (Katie Dorian), violent encounters involving his best friend Kevin (Sam Vigneault), and dealing with a drunken husk of his father Clarence (Sébastien Poissant Labelle), who is unable to overcome the death of his favourite son.
While an entertaining venture, Bone Cage’s biggest flaw is director Jake Planinc’s establishment of the play’sthemes of subtlety and bare-bone anguish as cornerstones for his play’s actors to draw their inspiration. The result is an imbalance that Bone Cage continuously finds itself fighting against. Characters exist in emotional flux, jumping from 0-10 between moments of poignant introspection to full out profane screaming matches. Whereas some actors handle these emotions more capably than others, the end result is a sacrifice of a deeper emotional range that would have given the show further dimension. Yet, for the fewmoments of wooden delivery and issues getting their characters clicking into their rightful place, the team behind Bone Cage captures fantastic moments of grim poetry, cathartic discovery, and compelling grief that does honest justice to Catharine Banks’ beloved work.
The moment Chris Hadfield took to the stage of the Rebecca Cohn Theatre, the room filled with applause. After reading up on the decorated Colonel’s past achievements, it is not hard to see why the man is held in such high esteem. One of the first Canadian space shuttle crew members for NASA, Hadfield has gone on to work with iconic space projects such as Canadarm, Mir, and the International Space Station. He has been on three separate space expeditions, orbited Earth 2600 times, and has published three books just for good measure, making him a household name for Canadians.
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The Bus Stop Theatre continues its new season of its Re-Fringed event with Taylor Olson‘s outstanding one man show Heavy. Over the course of an hour, Olson takes the audience on a powerful, introspective journey whereby his autobiographical story entailing drastic weight loss and weight gain is unfolded in vivid and unforgettable detail.
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