By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Notes from the departure lounge:
We’ve been welcomed by a ground crew of beaming and perky flight attendants. We’ve been through security. Very professional. “Have you been on a farm?” No. “Have you consumed anything organic?” Well, there was that kale margarita flatbread. “Kale!? Step this way please….” Scanning wand, more questions: “Do you have a chicken on you?”
I’m flying with Icarus Air tonight, first time. And the flashing board in in the departures lounge (which, incidentally, looks quite a lot like the Citadel’s Shoctor lobby) gives some idea of Icarus’s global — no, galactic — reach. TO London, VIA Stansted. TO Universe, VIA Milky Way.
Welcome aboard. Smiling flight attendants will helpfully inform us of the “non-existent safety features of the aircraft… no emergency exits, no safety cards in the seat in front of you.…”
Through departure gates all over the Citadel (except its theatres), Slight of Mind will take us on flights of fancy (on foot) into the great unknown. In Theatre Yes’s latest promenade production to pry theatre out of theatres (and into unexpected encounters with audiences), there are scenes in the secret niches, the corridors, corners, chambers and caverns, of the labyrinthine brick and glass playhouse downtown. Ah, and in locations in adjacent buildings that are in sight outside, through the glass walls.
I’m not going to tell you where they are: disorientation and discovery is part of the experience, and the fun, of Slight of Mind. Suffice it to say that, with the exception of the odd public staircase, where one scene unexpectedly happens, you won’t have been there before. Unless you’re a Citadel employee, or a member of IATSE Local 210.
The award-winning playwright/actor Beth Graham (Pretty Goblins, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble) has written a play, directed by Theatre Yes’s Heather Inglis, that takes off through the starry sky, up up up and down down down. And its flight pattern — which is, in ways both literal and metaphorical, all about flight — takes us into three intertwined stories.
At the heart of Slight of Mind is the yearning to break free of our earthly bonds and take wing. And in addition to its iconic characters, Graham’s script captures that aching desire in occasional lyrical outbursts of rhymed poetry.
The poster boy for exhilaration and risk — borrowed for the occasion from Greek mythology for a moving little father-son drama — is Icarus (Philip Geller). He and his inventor dad Daedalus (Ian Leung) have beautifully written and compelling acted scenes together. And they’re staged with striking ingenuity by Inglis in locations that add exponentially to the life-and-death stakes.
Daedalus, as you may recall, fashions his son a pair of wings from wax and feathers, with the warning not to fly too close to the sun or they would melt. Icarus famously is too dazzled to heed his dad; what teenage dreamer ever really does listen?
There are two other signature risk-takers in Slight of Mind. Amelia Earhart, the ground-breaking ground-leaving pilot, chalked up a cluster of firsts — first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, for one — before her fateful flight of 1937. On a circumnavigation of the globe she disappeared. The mystery has never been resolved.
She is played, with gusto, by Melissa Thingelstad, as a brisk, amused, vivid woman who dispenses with objections (and dopey questions about her fame as “a girl pilot”) like they’re so much lint. “Why do you do it?” she’s asked by a media dimbulb. “Because I want to,” she declares. “Decide whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying.”
Valentina Tereshkova, in Lora Brovold’s striking portrait, is a fierce but oddly soulful, Russian who becomes the first woman in space. As she’s constantly reminded by party headquarters (Cole Humeny’s Krushchev), she’s been chosen by the party to score points in the space race with the Americans. We meet her again, later, in orbit, wonderstruck and potentially doomed, since there’s been a malfunction.
The dreamer-in-progress we meet at the outset is Agnes (Ivy DeGagné) on her 10th birthday, the daughter of a flight attendant (Rebecca Merkley) and an airplane technician (Byron Martin). She dreams of flying, of being a pilot. And in the course of Slight of Mind, she will learn something unforgettable about the high stakes. That scene, in truth, suffers from a little from acoustical problems.
The nine-member corps of flight attendants (most of them U of A theatre school grads) are highly amusing: identical blue airline power suits with jaunty caps, identical red lipstick and professional smiles, and that brisk official flight attendant gait. They usher passengers to and from assorted gaits, offering jokes and philosophical asides (“flying is always just a state of mind”), their smiles undimmed.
The scenic design (by Daniela Masellis and Tessa Stamp) rises to the challenge of multiple spaces in inventive ways. And these are enhanced by contributions from costume designer Brian Bast, videographer Ian Jackson, and sound designer Gary James Joynes. Among the latter’s inspirations is a kind of spacey sound installation in a chamber that, as a flight attendant acknowledges brightly, is very small. “But that’s because it’s coach.”
It’s Amelia Earhart who declares that “there’s more to life than being a passenger.” And that’s something that an immersive theatre experiment like this one hints at it, too. I must admit I don’t quite get the title, though. Slight of Mind is by no means slight in the thoughts it offers about aspirations and risk-takers.
Carry on, dreamers, into the wild blue yonder. And keep your carry-on to a minimum.
Slight Of Mind
Theatre: Theatre Yes in collaboration with the Citadel Theatre
Written by: Beth Graham
Directed and produced by: Heather Inglis
Starring: Lora Brovold, Ivy DeGagné, Philip Geller, Cole Humeny, Ian Leung, Byron Martin, Silverius Materi, Rebecca Merkley, Melissa Thingelstad
Where: Meet at Citadel box office for instructions
Running: March 27 to April 14
Tickets: 780-425-1820, citadeltheatre.com