By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
General rule of thumb: On any joyful occasion you can never really go wrong with dancing. If there’s singing, so much the better.
It frames Welcome Home, a celebration of the re-opening of the Varscona Theatre — and the homecoming of Teatro La Quindicina, one of its resident companies.
I caught the second of three Fridays of Welcome Home a couple of nights ago. And if you’re languishing in a pandemical funk (and really, who isn’t?) and remembering wistfully moments of alive-ness in a theatre, there’s one more Welcome Home to go this coming Friday. Tickets are free at teatroq.com (reservations, masks, sanitized hands, and a temperature under 38 de rigueur); donations are welcome and it’s the moment for theatre-goers to step up.
The homecoming opens with the arrival of Teatro star Andrew MacDonald-Smith onstage to explain the conga, the collective dance that connects the disconnected at wedding receptions. It’s a scene from (and the prevailing metaphor of) Stewart Lemoine’s 2010 comedy Witness to a Conga. “Remember plays?” wonders MacDonald-Smith, to a round of cheering from the scattered audience, reduced to about 40 from the 200 capacity.
The evening over which Belinda Cornish and Mark Meer preside in bright and witty fashion as co-hosts, ends in a riot of tap-dancing, surely the giddiest of art forms. Triple-threat MacDonald-Smith pounds the stage in I Can’t Be Bothered Now from Crazy For You (he starred in the Citadel production a couple of seasons ago). In this anxiety-plagued time, it’s a kick to hear “bad news go ‘way/ call ‘round some day/ in March or May…. I’m dancing and I can’t be bothered now!”
The evening’s entertainment doesn’t just allude to the pandemic, it’s creative and amusing about the necessary rules. In the new world there can be no singing onstage without masks. Steven Greenfield arrives at the keyboard as the most famous masked star of them all (c.f. Andrew Lloyd Webber). You see the comic possibilities attached to the mask rule in the torch-y Come Rain Or Come Shine, as delivered by Chariz Faulmino, a sparkling newcomer to the scene.
In honour of the occasion, Teatro premieres a surprising and funny new Stewart Lemoine playlet Poking the Dragon, starring Cornish, Meer, Greenfield and Faulmino. It’s built on a three-way escalation of e-mail correspondence amongst parties separated by the necessity, and aggravation, of working at home in a pandemic. As EPCOR continues to dig around, loudly, in the back alley behind the house, I instantly sympathized with the much put-upon Alex (Meer).
Cornish and Meer, both first-rate improvisers, ask performers, and special interview guests (last Friday, Jana O’Connor and Farren Timoteo), “How is your pandemic?” and “What gigs did you lose?” The answer to the former does not involve, thankfully, sourdough starter tips. The answer to the latter is, heartbreakingly, lots and lots, nearly all.
Teatro La Quindicina runs a summer season that’s the flip side of every other company in town, June through October. They cancelled 2020 completely, and rescheduled everything for 2021. So as an appetizer to that prospect, there’s a song from Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s, an original musical by Edmonton artists (MacDonald-Smith, Jocelyn Ahlf, Farren Timoteo and Ryan Sigurdson), set in Edmonton, and saluting a surprising chapter of Edmonton history, the lively 50s supper club scene here.
We have full-bodied live shows to look forward to. Meanwhile, my friends, there are the delights of the creative small-scale work-arounds. Yes, fun nights out like this one, tap-dancing and singing in small theatres like the Varscona. Give yourself a break.