By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
The wild side (to borrow the name of the indie theatre company) is where the questions live. The answers are conditional, elusive, to be discussed.
“I’m drawn to plays that ask more questions than give answers,” says Jim Guedo of Wild Side Productions and its tilt towards the powerful contemporary repertoire. “Plays that embrace contradictions, that can’t be boiled down to a TV Guide synopsis….” And you don’t have to hunt them down. As Guedo puts it, “the plays find you.”
The 2016 play that opens Thursday in the Roxy Performance Series is one of those. There’s a mystery attached to The Children, a suspenseful “eco-thriller” by the rising young Brit theatre star Lucy Kirkwood. In the aftermath of a nuclear power station meltdown on the English east coast, a couple of retired nuclear physicists have put a life together in a seaside cottage. And they’re visited by an ex-colleague of 40 years ago they haven’t seen for 38. Why has she come? “No one knows. That’s the elephant in the room.”
“There’s a slow burn to it,” says Guedo, who’s just finished directing another slow-burn play, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, at MacEwan University where he’s head of the theatre department. “You don’t find out till two-thirds through The Children where it’s going….”
An eco-disaster, a poisoned environment — they give The Children an immediate sort of topicality. But the surface “subject” isn’t why he picked it for Wild Side. “I wanted to do a play about characters who are … seniors,” he says. “People who are over the age of 60 and they’re smart, they’re sexy, they’re clever.”
“Which opens things up to broader questions about what responsibility does the older generation have to the young. Name your topic … we helped build it,” says Guedo. “We made the mess. Should we be part of the solution to fix it?” The Children expands from its setup to embrace thoughts about that.
An immediate inspiration to direct The Children came from reading an interview with Patti Smith, in her younger years a New York avant-garde punk queen and now in her ‘70s. “Do the rebellious, revolutionary icons still have something to say?” Guedo was struck by Smith’s declaration that “I’m more worried about bumble bees than terrorism.”
The generation that “broke the ground for all of us” has aged. So, muses Guedo at 62, “is it ‘I’ve done my bit, time to relax in the sunset!’ or do you keep going? People (at that age) are forced to make a decision to stay engaged. Or not.”
Guedo agrees that in the set-up, the arrival of “the other woman” who rattles the equilibrium of a couple, there are echoes of Harold Pinter, with his sinister outsiders, pauses, verbal fragments. “You don’t know what games are being played. But this is less oblique…. Once (the visitor) reveals her real intent, everything falls into place — ah, so that’s why this, or that, happened…. “ It all unspools in one room, in real time.
Interestingly, of the seven plays Guedo has produced for Wild Side Productions since he arrived back in Edmonton from years in Saskatoon, five (“without planning it”) happen to be by female playwrights: Sarah Ruhl, Anne Washburn, Bess Mohl, and now Lucy Kirkwood. In The Children, the latter, in her mid-30s, has written a play about characters in their mid-‘60s. “Without lecturing, with haranguing, she challenges our perceptions,” says Guedo. “Everyone’s flawed. And she touches on hot-button topics without there being a political soapbox.”
“It straddles so many levels…. But all we can play is the human, what happens in that room in an hour and 50 minutes. It’s more about taking responsibility than it is about climate change, or the danger of nuclear power…. It’s fun. Funny. And the characters, nuclear engineers are intelligent and quirky.” Guedo ponders to land the right comparison for this unclassifiable play. “OK, if Noel Coward met Edward Albee in a back alley and wrestled, with a bit of Pinter, and some Caryl Churchill thrown in….”
Roxy Performance Series
Theatre: Wild Side Productions
Written by: Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by: Jim Guedo
Starring: Ruth Alexander, Coralie Cairns, David McNally
Where: Roxy on Gateway, 8529 Gateway Blvd.
Running: Thursday through March 22
Tickets: 780-453-2440, theatrenetwork.ca