By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Spring seat sale: I visited the planet YEG last night, a gritty post-apocalyptic landscape (and cantina) “far from everything that’s really happening.”
Kanuck, cantina proprietor and aspirational Bounty Hunter in training, had evidently screwed up his first assassination assignment in last night’s edition of Kanuck’s Cantina: An Improvised Star Wars Saga. Guilt-plagued, Kanuck (Tristan Ham) was visiting his gruesomely wounded victim (and party-hearty bro) PartyBot (Jesse Gervais) in hospital — and revisiting his career goals. “I don’t have the killer instinct,” he wailed. “You’re in pieces, a shell of what you were….” Which only goes to show that being a BH isn’t all fun and games and cheery acts of murderous violence, my friends.
We’re ensconced in a tiny, lively comedy club just off Whyte on happening 81st Ave. The bar is dotted with improv stars having a snack and a beer after a performance of Wagon Load, a recurring improvised entertainment (directed by Dana Andersen) in which a major television network is vetting scripts for a new Western series.
At the 9 p.m. performance of Kanuck’s Cantina: An Improvised Star Wars Saga, happening at the Grindstone Comedy Theatre & Bistro twice a month, a deluxe (and rotating) cast of improvisers, many of them Die-Nasty regulars, has assembled to unleash their low-budget ingenuity and comic chops on one of the most high-budget high-profile other-galaxy scenarios the entertainment world has ever seen.
A repressive imperialist regime is in progress. The military, led by General Nova Toxin (Tom Edwards), is in charge, in a dithery, slightly needy way. Captain Jane Phasma (Chantal Perron) is the formidable, quite possibly out-and-out evil head of enforcement and torture. “We need to extract information,” says the one. “And an organ or two,” says the other.
Naturally, there are rebel forces. One of them, with particularly fetching wind-swept hair, is being tortured. The prisoner, Frank O’Phoné (Vince Forcier) is looking quite a lot worse for wear. He bravely proposes that “it’s the accent, right? That’s ethnic profiling….”
An exuberant and very funny pair of Keystone rebels, played by Jesse Gervais and Donovan Workun, are brainstorming an expedition into the heart of the enemy establishment. The smaller and rounder of the two is complaining about “the paper work” involved in the hatching of rebellion. Soon they will set forth to infiltrate and sabotage, etc. As soon as they find the keys to the space ship.
Matt Alden Dykes directs — a wry, amused introducer and annotator of scenes. “In this scene Vincent Forcier will be making acting look very very hard….”
The costume pieces, props, masks, fun to see, are selected for their cheap-theatre hilarity. And a variety of sound effects is supplemented by improvised music (the invaluable Paul Morgan Donald), full of portentous Star Wars references, and nods to the gummier end of musical theatre balladry. Yes, to anticipate your question, there are improvised musical numbers.
The Grindstone, after all, is the home of The 11 O’Clock Number, led by Byron Martin (the founder and artistic director of the Grindstone), in which entire musicals get improvised, an amazing weekly feat of musical theatre dexterity.
Also amazing is this: The cast of Kanuck’s Cantina, supplemented by guest stars, is obviously tuned to the classical frequency. They do Shakespeare once a month — the plays that somehow Will never quite got around to writing.
I can tell you this, but keep it to yourself: A Jedi in disguise has been detected on planet YEG. What will happen next? No one knows; there’s no one to ask. The only thing to do is show up at the Grindstone, grab a drink, and find out for yourself.
Check out the full schedule of performances, six nights a week till late — sketch comedy, standup, cabaret, improv of every size, shape, and style — at grindstonetheatre.ca.