By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
In the archive of Edmonton Actors Theatre — an award-winning indie company with a solemn name but wildly playful theatrical appetites — there’s everything but the kitchen sink.
There’s a a gleeful, insurrectionist satire, Fatboy. There’s a moody contemporary retrofit of a classic, Stupid Fucking Bird, spun from Chekhov’s The Seagull. And there’s a hyperactive one: The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hop-hop re-telling of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. There’s a weird experimental spin on that most familiar of forms, the modern relationship comedy: Jeffrey M. Wright’s 70 Scenes of Halloween. (Yes, there are 70; no, they’re not in numerical order).
The Edmonton Actors Theatre take on holiday entertainment, the multiple Sterling Award-winning Burning Bluebeard, which has returned for three seasons at the Roxy, is a jaunty anti-panto in which the cast emerge, singed and smudged, from body bags at the outset to finish the show they never got the chance to finish because the theatre burned down.
Are you getting the drift?
So when Edmonton Actors Theatre artistic director Dave Horak announced the premiere production of a new Canadian play, more naturalistic than usual for his company, and he even invoked the term “reality,” it was something of a surprise on all counts.
It’s here. The play is Collin Doyle’s Terry and the Dog, formerly called Too Late To Stop Now, opening Thursday in the tiny PCL Studio Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barns. The new title — with its nod to the famous Jerry and the dog monologue in Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story — is “more welcoming,” says actor/director Horak.
In Terry and the Dog, a 60-ish recovering alcoholic tells us a story about his wife and his son and … yes, his dog.
But that’s where the Edmonton Actors Theatre aesthetic comes into play. Realism? A fourth wall? “Well, not really,” says Horak, pleased by this ambiguity. Naturalism? “Hmm, well, it’s a memory play. A bit dreamy. Ghosts float through….” The audience, says Horak, whose aesthetic involves experiments with that connection, “is never sure what’s real and what isn’t” — mainly because we see the world through the eyes of the narrator. “He’s re-living and re-telling his memories, addressing us in the first-person.”
And as for walls, either real ones or the invisible “fourth wall” that separates us from the onstage world, “the play has never felt like it had to be happening in a house. Or a basement,” says Horak. That’s why it invited so-called ‘alley staging’ (designers: Victoria Zimski and Guido Tondino), with the audience strung along either side. “There’s a sense that everything is on a loop; Things float in and then float out again. Collin is so good at making these things flow….”
Which brings us to the canine in question, and this mysterious description: Terry is “waiting for his dead dog to come back to life” as he reviews “his dog’s previous deaths.”
“The dog keeps dying and coming back to life. Why? That’s the mystery of it? Why does that keep happening?” Horak lets his own questions hover in the air.
In this Year of Doyle in Edmonton theatre, Terry and the Dog is the playwright’s second premiere (Shadow Theatre produced Slumberland Motel in January). It’s the latest from an Edmonton playwright known for his unusual skill in marrying sharp, funny, darkly comic dialogue to moving drama. And, as Horak explains, it’s the third in a Doyle trio of black comedies — with The Mighty Carlins and Routes — about disintegrating families. “Alcoholism and the traumas associated with that….It’s about coming to terms with those, and forgiving a father. And it’s got a kind of grace to it,” says Horak.
When Horak isn’t directing he’s an actor (most recently he was onstage in Elena Belyea’s Cleave as a father with a dark secret). In Wild Side Productions’ 10 Out Of 12, in 2016, Edmonton audiences saw him as an actor playing a director. That part of his career began in his home town of Calgary; he appeared in that city’s summer Shakespeare in the Park. He came here for U of A theatre school and (as he puts it, with a grin) ended up in a blueblood theatre family, the Ryans: he’s married to actor/director/playwright/cabaret artiste Bridget Ryan.
As with his onstage work, an unusual versatility attaches to Horak’s freelance directing credits. They range from full-scale Broadway musicals (Footloose) to difficult chamber pieces by Caryl Churchill (Love and Information) to new screwball comedies (Jana O’Connor’s Going Going Gone). This summer he’s directing The Comedy of Errors at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, followed by the musical revue Two Good Knights at the Mayfield, followed, later next season there, by the sublimely zany Ken Ludwig farce Lend Me A Tenor.
Horak has been attracted to Doyle’s writing for quite some time, as he explains. “I loved Let The Light Of Day Through,” a 2013 Doyle award-winner in which a young couple deals with tragedy by reinventing themselves in a comedy.
And now, there’s a play that’s caught between the dream world and “reality.” With ghosts. And a dog.
Terry and the Dog
Theatre: Edmonton Actors Theatre
Written by: Collin Doyle
Directed by: Dave Horak
Starring: Robert Benz, Maralyn Ryan, Cole Humeny
Where: PCL Studio Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Av.
Running: Thursday through May 19
Tickets: TIX on the Square. (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca)
EDMONTON ACTORS THEATRE: The Shows