Archives for April 2023

Under Milk Wood: sensuality and wonder

publicity photo for Under Milk Wood

David Hollinshead as the scheming Mr. Pugh (Photo by Nancy Caldwell)

I don’t know if language gets more glorious than this. The poetry in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, a radio play from 1954 that was adapted for the stage, is unabashedly beautiful.

In it, two narrators introduce us to the fictional Welsh town of Llareggub (“buggerall” spelled backwards). I don’t know how you’ll react but, as soon as I heard their description of the night and its “slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea,” I was in. Like in.

Referring to the townspeople, the voices tell us, “From where you are, you can hear their dreams.”

“Young girls lie bedded soft,” they continue, “with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying woods.”

This text might look overwrought as you’re reading it but, hearing it, it feels concretely ecstatic: even without speaking it yourself, you know how good it would feel in your mouth.

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Rubaboo means stew: This stew is bland

publicity photo for Rubaboo

Cimmeron Meyer’s set design is one of Rubaboo’s strongest elements.
(Robert Walsh, Andrea Menard, and Karen Shepherd in a photo by Dahlia Katz)

Artistically, Rubaboo is mostly terrible.

But there’s no denying the project’s good intentions. Core creator Andrea Menard, who also stars in this cabaret performance, has set out to explore the history and wisdom of her Métis culture. She’s aiming for truth and reconciliation. All power to her on that front.

And the evening, which ran about an hour and forty minutes the night I saw it, contains one song that really hits home. It’s about residential schools: the abuse, the discovery of the  unmarked graves of over 3,000 children in Canada, and, by implication, the staggering impact of systemic racism. Menard delivers this song with passion and zero sentimentality. It’s a gut punch.

But, for 90% of the show’s running time, the undeniably important thematic content of Rubaboo is appallingly badly rendered.

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Stupid Fucking Bird: inconsistent but sometimes glorious

publicity photo for Stupid Fucking Bird, The Search Party

Nathan Kay and Kerry Sandomirsky. Check the label on the wooden box. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

The Search Party’s production of Stupid Fucking Bird isn’t perfect, but it includes so many wildly successful elements that it’s worth seeing.

Aaaron Posner’s script is a riff on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The timeframe is updated to the present and some of the characters are rejigged, but the basic structure — including its major plot points and emphasis on triangles of unrequited love — remains the same.

We’re on Sorn’s country estate. His sister Emma, a star actress, is visiting with her lover Trig, a famous writer. In the play’s first action, Emma’s son Con presents his experimental play, We Are Here, on a stage down by the lake. Emma interrupts the performance so dismissively that Con aborts it. So the foundational unrequited love comes in the shape of Con’s search for approval from his narcissistic mom.

But Con is also yearning for Nina, his sweetheart since childhood, and the ingenue he has cast in We Are Here. But Nina has fallen for Trig, who is captivated by her beauty. (Trig is old enough to be Nina’s father and has vastly more power, so it would be just as easy to say that he’s a predator.)

Meanwhile Mash, Sorn’s parttime cook, is in love with Con and Con’s best friend Dev is helplessly smitten with Mash.

As Sorn says, “So much feeling!”

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Black & Rural: stuck in its head

publicity photo for Black & Rural

Shayna Jones. Set and costume by Cecelia Vadala. Lighting by Brad Trenaman
(Photo: Sarah Race)

I’m white and urban writing about playwright Shayna Jones’s exploration of being Black and rural. Keep that in mind as you read this.

In her solo show Black & Rural, which she has written and is now performing, Jones tells us that she lives in a mountain village of 800 people — and she’s one of the only Black people within hundreds of miles. As such, she feels constantly observed by her well-meaning, mostly white neighbours and constantly called upon to perform. After George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Jones’s village held a Black Lives Matter march and, just by showing up, Jones became the day’s unwilling star. She appreciated the community’s action, but resented being thanked for the “enrichment” that her presence brings to the community. Within the message that her presence is exceptional, Jones heard the warning that she doesn’t belong there.

She tells us that, reeling from the alienation of this BLM experience, she set out to interview other Black and rural Canadians — searching, presumably, for some sense of solidarity and validation, some understanding of herself within a like-minded community. Over 18 months, she had 40 conversations that went on for “hours and hours.” From this research — and rumination — Black & Rural has emerged.

To present the results, Jones has written a 70-minute show that largely consists of newly invented “folktales”.

Although I’m sympathetic to Jones’s easily-imaginable sense of otherness, Black & Rural bored the pants off me.

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