Photo: Davide Chiazzese, Kathleen Stavert and Julie Tamiko Manning in Wildfire. Photo credit: Maxime Côté
The English version of David Paquet’s acclaimed absurdist tragicomedy Le brasier got its Montreal premier last week at La Chapelle, as part of this year’s Centaur Theatre Wildside Festival. This translation by Leanna Brodie (renamed Wildfire) first played in St Louis, Missouri and made it to Toronto’s Factory Theatre last year. Talisman Theatre’s new production, directed by Jon Lachlan Stewart, pays homage to the play’s francophone origins at Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui in 2016, with Odile Gamache’s dazzlingly gaudy set – a backdrop of spangly strip curtains and fluffy clouds descending like dei ex machina – contrasting with the mundane off-white casual wear of the three actors.
Alice Abracen’s new play, The Covenant, is about putting on a show. But it’s about as far as you can imagine from the razzmatazz of, say 42nd Street, or the in-joke hilarity of The Producers. No, the theatrical production its characters are putting together is Theresienstadt, the infamous Nazi twist on a Potemkin village, with its supposedly happy, thriving Jewish community in the heart of occupied Czechoslovakia.
Central to Abracen’s play are several brilliantly written and harrowing scenes involving what amounts to a series of production meetings between an anxious director and his demanding producer. Except here, the director, Peter (Jonathan Silver), is wearing a yellow star armband while the producer, Eric (Brett Watson), is a Nazi flunkey eager to impress his bosses with the perfect feelgood fiction.
The stakes are obviously far higher for Peter: if the illusion he is orchestrating (well-fed villagers, lots of fun leisure activities and so on) is broken and the Red Cross visitors are unconvinced, the community will be shut down and the precarious comforts enjoyed by the inmates will be replaced by a one-way ticket east.
So powerful and tense are these scenes between the desperately accommodating Peter and the disingenuously chummy Eric, and so potently is the language of meta-theatricalilty used, that it sometimes felt as though The Covenant might work even better as a stark, stripped-down two-hander.
That sub-genre of shows seemingly put on by a bunch of randos who have no business being on stage can be a fun take on meta-theatre. The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the purest examples, and I’ll always remember, with a mix of affection and exasperation, Sheffield avant-gardists Forced Entertainment’s vintage show, 200% and Bloody Thirsty, which saw a bunch of increasingly drunk actors repeating a Nativity play ad nauseum. British readers of a certain age might also recall the unfailing hilarity of Les Dawson’s inept piano-playing (while noting, by the way, that Dawson only managed to play so badly because he was a skilled pianist).
The new artistic directors of Festival TransAmériques stepped up to the mic last night to declare this year’s festival fully open after two years of pandemic interruptus, and to introduce the opening show, Re:Incarnation from Qudus Onikeku’s QDance Company. It was, said Jessie Mill and Martine Dennewald, the first time a company from the African continent has opened FTA. And what a joyous and euphoric first it proved to be, bursting with colour, infectious rhythm and, above all, incredibly vibrant dance as two musicians and ten high energy dancers took to the stage.
Drawing on his novel Le coeur en bandoulière, Michel Tremblay has created a delicious meta-play that pays homage to his beloved Chekhov while continually interrogating whether such an enterprise is worth the candle or would be of any interest to an audience.
To be or not to be? Sarah Kane resolved that question for herself with shocking finality when, in 1999, she took her own life in a London hospital, after five brief years of being one of the most celebrated and controversial playwrights in Europe. Her final, posthumously-performed play 4:48 Psychosis is like an extended modernist riff on Hamlet’s soliloquy, though with none of the indecision. “After 4:48,” her character says, “I will be silent.”
The original High School Musical, though back when it was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988, chronic artistic misjudgement rather than anything supernatural brutally swept any potential plaudits right off the shelf. Transferring to Broadway after its Stratford-Upon-Avon run, Carrie: The Musical lasted a mere five post-preview performances before being ignominiously pulled amid bullying-teenager-style jeers.
Luca Guadagnino’s re-make of Dario Argeno’s Suspiria showed that dance can be an effective vehicle for horror, as did Black Swan before it.The 1948 Powell-Pressburger classic The Red Shoes, though by no means a horror film, had its share of creepy moments too, not least in the notion of the cursed titular footwear carrying the heroine to a grisly death.
Crypto, the latest piece from Côté Danse, which ends Danse Danse’s 2021/22 season with style, fits right into this tradition, being a kind of modern Cronenbergian ballet about a mythical creature forced to undergo horrific surgeries before turning on its tormentors.
“What are you saying, Ollie? You killed a vagrant and he’s been reincarnated as a designer kitchen?”
That’s exactly what Ollie, and playwright Philip Ridley, are saying in the latter’s 2015 absurdist black comedy, playing in a sparkling francophone production at Théâtre La Licorne directed by David Strasbourg .