Nomadic Tempest is very, very bad

Paul Kirby wrote and directed Nomadic Tempest for Caravan Stage.

Children appear—in video—in Nomadic Tempest, but their dialogue is awful and the video is alienating.

Somebody’s got to say it: Nomadic Tempest is pretentious hippie gibberish.

Caravan Theatre started in 1970 in the BC interior and split into two groups in 1985. One bunch, Caravan Farm Theatre, has been producing shows on its land outside Armstrong ever since. Since 1993, Caravan Stage, the company that’s producing Nomadic Tempest,  has been sailing the world on its boat, the Amara Zee, which is currently moored on the south side of False Creek. Audience members sit in chairs or on bleachers on the shore to watch the show, which mostly takes place on the vessel.

It’s amazing to me that a company that’s been producing theatre for so long has managed to come up with a product that is so boring.

Playwright and director Paul Kirby, who is also the artistic director of Caravan Stage, has built Nomadic Tempest, on a pedestrian device: it’s 2040 and earnest children ask a wise old woman to tell them the story of The Drowning Wave, an apocalyptic event caused by global warming. This storytelling approach is probably meant to be elemental but, to me, its feels ineffective and unsophisticated. Audience members view the scenes between the children and the wise woman on video that’s projected onto fabric that hangs from the Amara Zee’s rigging—which compromises the liveness of the interactions. The kids’ acting is often wooden, and their questions are clearly in service of deliberate agitprop: “Why did they let this happen?”; “Why must we live in the ruins?”

Don’t get me wrong. Climate change is the most pressing problem of our time. I’m not criticizing the fundamental politics; I just wish the delivery were more nuanced. Again and again, Nomadic Tempest makes the same simplistic point: big oil is bad. In the wise woman’s story—her name is Kanandra—the fossil fuel industry is embodied by the evil SwallowWart twins, who cackle a lot and want to kill everybody. I couldn’t help but wonder, though: why do the SwallowWart twins still exist after the apocalypse? Before the next generation arrives, Kanandra seems to be the only surviving human, so who’s buying the oil? And, if the twins kill her, where’s their market?

Nomadic Tempest seldom concerns itself with anything as pesky as logic, however. Major spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the ending. Ultimately, Kanandra defeats the SwallowWarts with the help of—wait for it—butterflies and song.

I’m all for poetry. I’m all for associative writing. But successful imaginative worlds have their own internal logic. Watching Nomadic Tempest is like being trapped inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s wet dream.

Speaking of poetry, Kirby’s use of language is appalling. And a lot of it is sung. Have I mentioned that Nomadic Tempest is an opera? Yes, it’s an opera—dull, repetitive, non-melodic opera, composed by James Coomber. “Follow the trail of the sky streams,” the butterflies sing. “Soar with the nerve of Perseus.” In the dialogue, there’s a lot of clumsily invented future-speak, including Kanandra’s reference to pipelines: “The pipe tongues carried dead fossil putrids.” And the script is liberally laced with gnomic utterances, including: “Oh how wisdom is in capture! We vacuum in the futile now.”

Perhaps most damagingly, sweet nothing happens, either narratively or in physical space. The story repeats its basic points: big oil is bad, massed butterflies are good. And, instead of dramatic action, we get movement sequences, mostly from the butterflies, who perform aerial acts while suspended from hoops and silks. But even the aerial acts lack any sense of accumulation or momentum; because there’s no dramatic shape to most of these sequences, it feels a hell of a lot like the butterflies are just hanging there.

Zia Musk, who plays Kanandra, has a strong, sure voice. The video contains a striking image in which flames flow from butterfly wings. And the aerial sequence in which butterflies emerge from their chrysalises is memorable.

The night I saw the show, people started leaving about ten minutes in. I’m amazed that anybody stayed.

NOMADIC TEMPEST Written and directed by Paul Kirby. A Caravan Stage Company production. On the south side of False Creek, east of the Cambie Street Bridge. On Thursday, August 24. Continues until September 3. Some free tickets are available at www.caravanstage.org, but walk-ins can be accommodated at the door.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. David C Jones says:

    There was a steady stream of people leaving the night I saw it too. Crushed when I discovered they close the bar during the show

  2. David C Jones says:

    So many were walking out on the night I attended. I was saddened when I found the bar was no longer open.

  3. Not worth the price of admission. Too bad–i’m sure people worked very hard.

  4. Beth Coleman says:

    Hi Colin and readers,
    Right on about Nomadic Tempest, a lot of high tech caterwauling devoid of any real content. I left with sore ears, no new insights, and anger to see all that talent wasted on such a thin, shallow script. I think it was Aristotle who said (and I paraphrase) when theatre becomes dominated by spectacle (rather than character, theme etc) the society is in decay.

    Happy to see you on-line. From a former UBC classmate of yours from real ‘hippie’ days.
    Beth

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