Matchstick Theatre ventures deep into the forest with The Woodcutter, a play written by Don Hannah and helmed by its resident director Jake Planinc. An ambitious one-hander, the show rests on the performance of its only actor, Sébastien Labelle. Labelle surrenders himself entirely to the role of Ted, a man navigating the dark forest that is the extensively transformed Bus Stop Theatre.
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.”
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.
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 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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Interpretative dance is an interesting creature in that it is offered a greater degree of freedom than its fellow artistic counterparts. As such, therein lies the question: how interpretative can interpretive dance be before sacrificing coherent narration?
For so many of those people who choose to recognize it, Christmas is the ultimate holiday celebration. It’s the big one; the one where so much is poured into it – time, energy, emotion, and money – in the hope that the yield on December 25th will pay back in far more meaningful dividends.