By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
— Through The Looking Glass And What Alice Found
Theatre Network ventures through the looking glass to launch their 43rd season this fall.
For one thing, plans for a new theatre that will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the old, are emerging tangibly from the smoke of the 2015 fire that destroyed their vintage 124th St. ex-cinema home. And there’s this: the TN MainStage season of three productions opens November 7 to 26 at the Roxy on Gateway, the company’s temporary home, with the world premiere of a new show from the zestfully experimental Calgary-based Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
Two years in the making, Underland, as it’s currently titled, is spun from the adventures of Alice in a world where logic is upside down, or inside out. Lewis Carroll is a natural fit with Trout World, with its appetite for the absurd, the grotesque, the strange and wonderful.
Which is something you might instantly suspect if you have followed the Trouts’ long and productive relationship with Theatre Network. It’s included the macabre faux-archive Famous Puppet Death Scenes (which ran twice at Theatre Network, 2008 and 2015); Ignorance, a kind of Trout doc/history of happiness; The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan, which found a whole arsenal of eccentric surreal imagery for the old reprobate’s career.
Underland, says Theatre Network artistic director Bradley Moss, was conceived as “Alice in Wonderland backstage, a messed-up puppet behind-the-scenes version….” But that was before the Trout trio of Judd Palmer, Peter Balkwill, and Pityu Menderes were struck, more particularly, with the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky and “its wild absurdity,” as Moss puts it.
“We’ve already changed the blurb several times,” Moss laughs. “Hey, even the title might change.”
An adventure of a very different sort runs in the TN season after that. “It’s exciting we can bring it home,” says Moss of Métis Mutt: Sheldon Elter’s hit solo play, was born at Theatre Network’s Nextfest in 2001, as a 10-minute stand-up routine.
Buzz surrounded Métis Mutt from the start, both for the harrowing and hilarious personal story of abuse and domestic chaos it told in an audacious blend of tragedy and comedy, and for the stunningly multi-talented young actor/musician/writer it introduced to the scene.
Métis Mutt has been amplified several times since then. After a Dora Award-nominated run at Toronto’s Native Earth Theatre this past season, Ron Jenkins’ production comes home Feb. 13 to March 4, and Moss is delighted. “Sheldon is so charismatic, so willing to go to the hard places….”
Moss himself directs Infinity (April 17 to May 6). The challenging 2015 play by the Canadian star Hannah Moscovitch (East of Berlin, This Is War, Little One) knots the domestic and the philosophical in the relationship between a physicist, a musician, and their mathematician daughter. “The characters are all brilliant, all screwed up,” says Moss, whose production of Moscovitch’s psycho-thriller Little One won the outstanding production Sterling Award in 2014. In Infinity, the physicist’s theory of time will prove crucial. “Infinity starts with the word ‘love’ and ends with the word ‘love’,” says Moss. “It’s smart, it’s funny. And there’s music,” played live by an onstage violinist.
Network’s annual Roxy Performance Series, which hosts productions from indie companies, opens (Sept. 21 to 24) with Mind Games by and starring the mentalist Jeff Newman.
Taylor Chadwick directs a What It Is production of The Aliens (Oct. 10 to 22), the 2010 breakout play by the American writer Annie Baker, whose distinctive voice has found its way into such award-winners as Circle Mirror Transformation, The Flick and John. Two underachiever slackers, hanging out yakking behind a nondescript Vermont coffee shop, are joined by a nerdy high school kid: that’s the unflashy setup that expands to embrace big things. “I know these guys!” laughs Moss, who grew up in Quebec not far from the Vermont border.
Dave Horak’s award-winning Edmonton Actors Theatre production of Burning Bluebeard — “our anti-Christmas Christmas show” as Moss puts it — returns for a third Yule season December 3 to 23. The macabre but poignant Jay Torrence play seems eerily tailored for Theatre Network: the singed cast of a Christmas panto returns from the ashes of a burnt-out theatre to finish their show.
“There are pieces of our 124th St. mural in the backdrop,” says Moss. “Our burnt theatre is up there onstage.”
Kill Your Television returns to their 2002 hit Shakespeare’s R & J, with a new production of the Joe Calarco play in which four students from a strict Catholic private boys’ school meet secretly to read something banned: Romeo and Juliet. They become immersed, in a powerful and unexpected way. The cast of Kevin Sutley’s production has yet to be announced.
Jim Guedo’s Wild Side Productions (10 Out Of 12, The Realistic Joneses) returns — with a hot contemporary six-actor play that awaits only the finalization of rights.
Hey Ladies!, the kooky infotainment variety show invented by Cathleen Rootsaert, Leona Brausen, and Davina Stewart has five dates, Sept. 29, Oct. 27, Dec. 1, Feb. 2, May 11. New to the line-up is PattyZ’s@The Roxy Cabaret Series. Actor/cabaret artist Patricia Zentilli creates themed cabarets, with guests, for Saturday night series, dates to be announced.
Meanwhile, TN steps up a capital fund-raising campaign for a $10 to $12 million new Roxy, on the footprint of the old. The reborn Roxy will include a 200-seat mainstage theatre (the Nancy Power), an 80 to 100-seat black box alternative stage (the Lorne Cardinal Theatre), and a Bradley Moss rehearsal hall.
Subscription passes for season #43 are available at Theatre Network (780-453-2440, theatrenetwork.ca).