By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Even before the fog rolls in at Fort Edmonton Park , an abandoned midway on an autumn night is an eerie sight. An empty skeleton of a ferris wheel, rides without seats, boardwalks across empty fields, a merry-go-round in a glass house with ghostly wooden horses frozen mid-prance.
And more unnerving still: a population of the undead, who won’t stay buried. Thanks to Catch The Keys Productions, theatrical exhumers extraordinaire, they’ve re-emerged from the grave, and the tumultuous decade between 1918 and 1928, with grievances to air and strange stories to re-live. And they sense we’re tainted too; the gruesome chalk-faced ringmaster (Colin Matty), who seems to be waiting for us at every turn, taunts us with the knowledge of our own lust for the unsavoury. You’ve come to “find your weird,” he leers at us. And I guess he’s right.
The 10th anniversary edition of Dead Centre of Town doesn’t so much occupy the 1920 Johnny J. Jones Midway at Fort Edmonton Park, as it haunts the place and creeps it out. To flickering lighting by bonfire and hand-held lantern, and unnerving eruptions of glows in the dark, we trail from ride to ride, freak side show to aerial act, dancing girl to hawker, illusionist to fortune teller.
The bizarre horror stories that playwright Megan Dart has unearthed, still mouldy from the grave, and paired to circus acts, are from this place. Which is a big part of the shivery atmosphere that hangs over Dead Centre of Town X. Our Town, the Dart re-write. Violent death, serial murder, suicide, gore, freakish accidents, animal acts gone very wrong, horrifying exits (of a startling variety) from this mortal coil … our graveyard of history contains a veritable variety show of the creepy, the distinctively odd, the downright bizarre. Elephants are involved. Who knew?
The way recognizable names float by — Strathcona, the High Level Bridge, apartment 14 at the Arlington … — puts a distinct chill down the back of your neck. And the characters, released from the bonds of obscurity (i.e. our civic ignorance), seem to enjoy the recoil. They mingle, they tap you on the shoulder, they smile their black smiles.
Beth Dart directs a cast of 15, gamely risking hypothermia in lacy period showbiz gear to do the dance macabre of E-town history. Costumes, make-up, special effects and set are by John Evan and Kat Evans.
I don’t want to spill the beans about the stories; you wouldn’t thank me if I did. But then again maybe I dreamed it all, even the terrifying little boy (shhhh, not in front of the children). I woke up this morning in a city with an innocuous surface, copious concrete, a plethora of bureaucrats and lots of potholes. My friends, I have the prickly sensation that there’s more to this town than that.
Give yourself a thrill! Get yourself to Fort Edmonton (and wear layers).
Dead Centre of Town X
Theatre: Catch The Keys Productions
Written by: Megan Dart
Directed by: Beth Dart
Starring: Colin Matty, Morgan Smith, Christine Lesiak, Adam Keefe, Mat Simpson, Vincent Forcier, Samantha Jeffery, Joshua Lee Coss, Bobbi Goddard, Jake Tkaczyk, Marina Mair Sanchez, William Mitchell, Perry Gratton, Franco Correa, Elisa Benzer
Where: Johnny J. Jones Midway, Fort Edmonton Park
Running: through Halloween