Last week, I saw both shows currently onstage at the Factory Theatre.
Mainstage is THE UNPLUGGING, Yvette Nolan's post-apocalyptic vision of a future where the lights have gone out, and aren't coming back on. If you were one of the unfortunate people who lived without power for a few days - or weeks - two Christmases past, you have a clear idea of how terrifying this can be.
In THE UNPLUGGING, two women, past childbearing age, have been cast out of their community, and into the woods, in the dead of a Canadian winter, for "not pulling their weight." When we meet them, one grumpy and exhausted half of the duo, Elena (the wonderful Diana Belshaw) is ready to call it quits, and freeze to death right on the spot.
Her buddy, former good time girl Bern (a smoking hot and smoking good, Allegra Fulton) remembers there's a cottage not far away, where she used to go and party. Once they're out of the woods, so to speak, Elena dusts off the trap line skills she learned from her grandmother, and Bern turns into a savvy scavenger. They hunt and forage through the bush, and the abandoned cottages around them, making their way to a comfortable, if chaste, and rather lonely subsistence. Then Seamus, a hungry young man, played by newcomer Umed Amin, shows up on their doorstep.
The play examines the kinds of power that remain when we run out of fossil fuel and electricity. It's dark territory, and in Nolan's imagining, it is also dangerous, and wickedly funny. All three actors do good work. Sadly, for a show with such a dynamic premise, and so many provocative questions on the table, the production feels weirdly flat.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The script has four movement passages built into it. Unfortunately, their execution is painfully clunky and awkward, undermining any dramatic tension preceding them.
Director Nina Aquino has done some good work with the actors. All the relationships are credible, and the humour in the script really shines.
She has also chosen to rapidly deflate any difficult moments in the play, and reinforce the didactic aspects of the script. We are never really allowed to sit with any sense of fear, menace, sorrow or flat-out terror, not even with weapons drawn. As Seamus, Amin has sexual chemistry with Fulton, but never feels like a credible threat. This robs the second half of the play of much of its power.
Camilia Koo's austere white set works well with Michele Ramsay's lovely lighting design, but it is not a good shape for a show with so much stylized movement. Seamus' upstage retreat takes up a whole lot of room for a barely used playing area .
I had no problem with the decision to cast non-Aboriginal actors, although I find it incredible that Aquino, a big advocate for non-white actors, and Nolan, the former artistic director of the oldest Aboriginal theatre company in the country, could not, between them, find one suitable, age-appropriate, available Aboriginal performer for any role in the three person cast.
In a collaboration between Native Earth Performing Arts, and the Factory Theatre, I find it even harder to believe they couldn't have used Aboriginal music by Aboriginal musicians, or hired an Aboriginal choreographer to handle the movement. As I watched the production, I longed for the gorgeous choreography of the electrifying Santee Smith, the voice of Tanya Tagaq or the beats of a Tribe Called Red.
THE UNPLUGGING is worth seeing, for both Nolan's award-winning play, and for Fulton and Belshaw's fine performances.
Meanwhile, in the smaller downstairs studio, Ronnie Burkett is back, with his alternating cast of forty singing, dancing, and acting marionettes, gleefully tipping sacred cows in his endlessly inventive and delightful cabaret show, THE DAISY THEATRE.
Ronnie Burkett writes the shows, builds the puppets (with the team of Angela Talbot, Gemma James-Smith, Marcus Jamin, Gil Garratt and Martin Herbert) and with the help of some unwitting, but three-GGG (that's good, giving and game, for you non-Dan Savage readers) audience participants, provides two hours of non-stop, engaging, witty, and deeply affecting entertainment.
Burkett is that rare performer who gets on a stage, and with polish, assurance and masterful skill, totally owns the room. If you've never had a chance to be beguiled his charms, THE DAISY THEATRE is on for another 10 days. If you've seen the DAISY THEATRE, as I have, for the third time now, the cabaret-style show is different every night. The music by John Alcorn and Cathy Nosaty, with a theme song by Laura Hubert, is perfect.
It's World Theatre Day today. Each time I see Burkett, I am reminded of what it is I love about theatre. Burkett's puppets, with their charms, sorrows, sufferings, illusions, foibles and dreams, remind us what it means to be fully human.
THE DAISY THEATRE and THE UNPLUGGING continue at THE FACTORY THEATRE, TUESDAY through SUNDAY, until APRIL 5th. For both shows call: CALL (416) 504 9971 or go to factorytheatre.ca for times and tickets.