By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
In the dead of winter in dark northern cities, humans put on their boots and gravitate to pubs. There they congregate, hoist beer, and tell tales.
That time-honoured oral tradition is honoured in the play/ storytelling cabaret premiering Friday at the cozy Whyte Ave. bistro The Almanac. In KaldrSaga: A Queer Tavern Drama For A Midwinter’s Night, two old friends, Kaldr and Saga, come together once a year in their favourite pub to catch up on the 364 days they’ve been apart, and to share stories — of gods, giants, heroes, creation myths.
In the unusual two-hander by (and directed by) Cardiac Theatre co-founder Harley Morison, queer origin stories are “inspired by and riff on” Norse mythology — the heavy-hitters like Thor and Odin, the more obscure figures (can you name Thor’s kids?), and “the one-off mentions.”
Since its own origin story began, some three years ago with Ella Hickson’s Hot Mess, the enterprising indie Cardiac has consistently brought Edmonton audiences “things we’ve never had before,” as playwright/director Morison puts it. Challenging things like Pacamambo by the Canadian star Wajdi Mouawad, Pompeii L.A. by Australia’s Declan Greene, Edmonton’s first first-hand exposure to the work of Canadian wunderkind playwright Jordan Tannahill in Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes.
And now, something new. In Norse mythology, Morison found inspiration for “characters who are probably queer.” And pre-rehearsal this week, he cheerfully tossed out some examples. Did you know, for example, that the hyper-masculine Thor, he of the famous hammer that comes down like thunder on his enemies, once went to a wedding dressed as a woman? The name of one of his kids, Mosey, means brave, says Morison. “What if the kid wanted to take up musical theatre?”
Morison has found a “goddess of forbidden love” character in the Norse annals, “a sort of marriage commissioner.” The shape-shifter Loki “once transformed himself into a horse and gave birth to a foal.” The enigmatic war god Odin “is associated with the female practice of witchcraft.” The list goes on: “four different main stories, woven together by Kaldr and Saga catching up….” Morison says.
Between them Nasra Adem and Jake Tkaczyk conjure 23 characters, some famous, some mentioned briefly, some altogether invented. “How to distinguish them is our big challenge,” laughs Morison. “It happens so fast.” There’s original music: playwright/musician Rebecca Merkley was written a song, with Morison providing the lyrics. There’s choreography, by Man Up!’s C.J. Rowein.
With KaldrSaga, Cardiac is moving to incorporate new work into the mix of its repertoire. They’ve put out a call for submissions to the Alberta Queer Calendar Project, a go-big-or-go-home partnership with What It Is Productions, to be rolled out in 2020. Their aim? To workshop, record, and present as podcasts, new plays by queer Alberta writers: “one new play for every month of the year.”
KaldrSaga: A Queer Tavern Drama For A Midwinter’s Night
Written and directed by: Harley Morison
Starring: Nasra Adem and Jake Tkaczyk
Where: The Almanac on Whyte
Running: Friday through Jan. 26