“Not just prepared but Miss Katelyn-prepared!”: Tiny Bear Jaws takes us to readiness school. A review

Elena Belyea, Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable. Photo by Mike Tan.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s been a banner year or five for traumatizing apocalyptic anxiety.

It’s nerve-wracking and exhausting to be in a perpetual state of red-alert, barely suppressed. On the other hand, who can call it outlandish paranoid fantasy to imagine that some nondescript pyscho could walk into a school and start shooting kids?

Elena Belyea’s unnerving little solo comedy is about that. Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable, revived in re-written, updated form by Tiny Bear Jaws for this short Edmonton run, starts like satire then escalates into something else altogether. You’re laughing, and then, damn, you pretty much wish you weren’t. It happens over and over.    

Miss Katelyn, who continually refers to herself as Miss Katelyn and uses the collective “we” as her pronoun of choice, greets us at the door with a beaming teacher smile, and eye contact. It’s the last day of school, Miss Katelyn’s last crack at imparting life-saving knowledge to us grade 3Bs. Her six-point program for dealing with worst-case scenarios is designed to make us “not just prepared but Miss Katelyn-prepared!” she tells us brightly. Belyea has the charismatic drive of a Miss Jean Brodie for the elementary school set.

Show-and-tell is Miss Katelyn’s pedagogical forte. “Puppets!” she declares, after roll-call, and produces a macabre sock-puppet fable about two brother beavers. One’s industrious, one’s a lay-about. A hunter with a gun shows up. Would you rather be the slacker beaver who gets shot in the head and dies? Or the hard-working beaver who gets shot in the head and dies?

Miss Katelyn’s educational exuberance has a prosthelytizer’s zeal; she attacks her material with vigour. “Who knows what I mean when I say the word ‘gunman’?” ‘Profiling’ is next. Then ‘lockdown’.And she keeps up a running commentary on her fellow teachers in asides. They’re complacent idiots in her view for the way they discount fear and suspicion.

Belyea’s new and improved version of the 2015 , directed by Emma Tibaldo, is smarter at applying incremental pressure to our instinctive reaction that Miss Katelyn is a crackpot zealot on a roll— until our resistance explodes under the weight of her logic. Bulletproof school supplies? Makes sense, really. Security cameras? Metal detectors?

Potential terrorists sitting next to you at St. Joseph’s Elementary in class 3B? If the world is a lethal place, is it not reasonable, well-adjusted even, to be suspicious of everyone and everything? That’s Miss Katelyn’s argument, but it’s an escalating challenge to meet it, she’s finding. The cloudy question of whether the readiness is all is up for grabs, times being what they are.    

Tiny Bear Jaws sinks its sharp little teeth into queasy and well-meaning responses in a juicy, solo performance from Belyea. Miss Katelyn’s campaign is all about the double-edged nature of fear and practical caution in a world of continual unseen dangers. Knowledge is damning and it has recoil; it’s burning a hole in Miss Katelyn’s mind. 

The frontier between alertness and panic is where she makes her stand. But it’s unstable ground, and things happen to people who live there.

An intriguing piece has become a lot more provocative. Catch performances through Saturday at the Studio Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave. Tickets: fringetheatre.ca

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