By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Sometimes the creative ingenuity and resilience of theatre artists just about takes your breath away. In a dangerous time when big live theatre gatherings have been cancelled, thwarted, delayed, diverted, they will find a way.
I went on an adventure Friday night outside in the cold dark air in Old Strathcona, with a map, my hand-warmers, and my cellphone. And in eight of the most unexpected locations in a district I thought I knew well, I met a story.
Here There Be Night is eight five-minute solo plays each starring a single actor: an involving one-on-one encounter with a real-live person. So, eight experiences that lead you out in the world, look you in eye (from six feet, or behind barriers), and in an amazingly inventive variety of ways acknowledge the strange, distancing, anxious and isolating, not to say be-nighted, moment in which we live. It felt like an act of defiance, a sort of underground resistance network, to be out in the world, connecting (with absolute safety) like that in the dark.
It’s the Workshop West Playwrights Theatre season-opener, elaborately plotted to take you (and a COVID partner if you like) through the dark into little moments that in the writing, the performing, and the directing, shed light on our weird, spooky situation. Tickets are vanishing fast (after all, this is theatre that gathers its audience one or two at a time). So get on this ASAP.
I really don’t want to spoil the fun of the unexpected for you. So I’ll just tell you that the pieces are acted with startling commitment, to engage you, their exclusive audience. And the writing is impressive — writing an original five-minute play that feels satisfying, and custom-tailored to its odd location must be devilishly tricky. Workshop West’s new artistic producer Heather Inglis (one of the four directors) has assembled 10 playwrights of different styles and angles of attack (I list them all below).
The range is wide; Edmonton playwrights have risen to the occasion. In the course of your tour you’ll encounter smart, political black comedy (from Jason Chinn). There’s puckish interactive whimsy (Harley Morison), unnerving spookiness (Bevin Dooley), a fantasia on our disconnected feeling of being stranded between destinations (Beth Graham), or between worlds (Amena Shehab and Aksam Alyousef). There’s a meditation on our longing for love and spiritual connection (from Mūkonzi wa Mūsyoki, a playwright new to me). Perhaps the most disturbing of all the encounters comes from the playwright Josh Languedoc, powerfully acted by Sheldon Elter.
The finale (Mieko Ouchi) is soulful. And so is the seductive conversational voice of the guide in your ear (by Susie Moloney, spoken by Melissa Thingelstad). My old cellphone was a wimp, and cacked out too soon in the cold. So I wish I’d heard more of the narration (by Susie Moloney, voiced by Melissa Thingelstad), which unspools from the thought that the veil between worlds is particularly thin at the moment. Don’t you feel that in your bones?
Meet at the Strathcona Community League (masked, to download the cellphone app and get instructions). And set forth, with earbuds and layers. Prepare to be surprised.
Here There Be Night
Theatre: Workshop West Playwrights Theatre (with participation from Theatre Network, Catalyst Theatre, Northern Light Theatre, Theatre Yes)
Written by: Aksam Alyousef and Amena Shehab, Jason Chinn, Bevin Dooley, Beth Graham, Josh Languedoc, Mieko Ouchi, Susie Moloney, Harley Morison, Mūkonzi wa Mūsyoki
Directed by: Patricia Cerra, Heather Inglis, Lana Michelle Hughes, Trevor Schmidt
Starring: Helen Belay, Nadien Chu, Patricia Darbasie, Sheldon Elter, David Madawo, Jameela McNeil, Christina Nguyen, Amena Shehab, Melissa Thingelstad
Where: eight locations in Old Strathcona (meet at Strathcona Community League with a cellphone, at least iPhone 6 or Android 4, plus mask and earbuds).
Running: through Nov. 1, staggered start times
Tickets, schedule, and COVID protocols: workshopwest.org