SummerWorks Picks 2015: Part 1

10 Aug

The 2015 edition of the SummerWorks Performance Festival is in full swing! Here are capsule reviews of the works that have stood out for us thus far:

the marquise of O-

marquiseDirector Ted Witzel and his company, Red Light District, are back with an adventurous and high-concept take on the early 19th century story by Heinrich von Kleist about a noblewoman who goes to extraordinarily public lengths to find the man responsible for her seemingly immaculate conception.

Co-written by Witzel and Lauren Gillis, the marquise of O- is a delightful blend of parody, anachronisms, and fourth-wall breaking that all serve to both skewer and enliven the stuffy conventions of the story’s era – but a superficial play, this is not. By the time the curtain falls, the audience is confronted by the realization of just how profound the Marquise’s story really is, and one almost feels guilty for having enjoyed the first half so heartily. Mix in some tidbits of Kantian philosophy, and you have a truly thought-provoking and layered piece of theatre.

Production-wise, Witzel’s trademark style and vision is on full display with a dynamic and mobile two-sided set that would make Brecht proud, a multitude of projection elements that support the artifice of the work and offer some wry meta-commentary, and some surreal touches that include the memorable use of a horse mask.

The cast (Kaleb Alexander, Rong Fu, Tyler Hagemann, Richard Partington, G. Kyle Shields, and Eve Wylden) make for a top notch ensemble, and while each performer is given time to shine, Shields is guilty of some serious scene stealing as the Marquise’s foppish and laissez-faire brother.

One side note: This play contains discussions of sexual assault. We mention this here because it was not listed as part of the audience warning at the venue, nor is there any audience warning information listed on the SummerWorks website.


This is Where We Live

This is Where We LiveVancouver-born, Australian playwright Vivienne Walshe’s This is Where We Live is a remarkable piece of writing; gritty yet poetic, lean yet lush. Walshe expertly paints small town Australia as an emotionally desolate locale; one thinks of the outback as an unforgiving landscape full of venomous creatures – an idea Walshe seems to draw on as metaphorical inspiration for this loose adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

At the centre of her story is Chloe (Jenna Harris), a prickly teen who compensates for her learning disability and permanent limp with a tough-as-nails exterior and “fuck the world” attitude. It is Chris (Tim Welham), the quiet odd-ball of Chloe’s English class (and son of her unforgiving teacher), that manages to crack open her protective shell and ultimately forges an intimate bond with her. Together, the idea of escaping their mundane realities doesn’t seem so farfetched after all. It’s not a complex narrative, but one that touches on a great number of human truths.

Harris and Welham are both a treat to watch; Harris’ drawling Aussie accent and cynical demeanour is a perfect counterpoint to Welham’s comedic and youthful performance. Director Taryn Jorgenson and set designer Jenna McCutchen make effective use of the sometimes stifling Passe Muraille Backspace; the confined space adds an element of emotional claustrophobia while the use of ladders as a visual motif supports the theme of ascension and escape.



SeamsIn a festival that celebrates the blending and bending of art forms, Polly Phokeev’s Seams may be one of the more conventional theatrical presentations in this year’s line-up, but that makes it no less of a memorable or effective work.

Set in a theatre’s costume shop in 1939 Russia, Seams is a tender and nuanced ensemble piece about the women – and man – who spend their days tailoring costumes and dresses and dreaming of better lives, while the world outside their workshop succumbs to violence and political strife.

Laced with nostalgia and bittersweet moments, Phokeev’s story captures the humanity and resilience of the Russian people, as well the eventual paranoia and distrust fostered by the communist regime that permeates and corrupts their lives.

The youthful cast (Krystina Bojanowski, Clare Coulter, Sochi Fried, Jesse LaVercombe, Caitlin Robson, Elizabeth Stuart-Morris, and Ewa Wolniczek), under the artful direction of Mikaela Davies, deliver charming and heartfelt performances. A rich and vintage design from Shannon Lea Doyle makes the world of the piece that much more tangible.

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