By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Fever Land, according to that heartbreaking/ riotous comedy by which Teatro La Quindicina returned to live performance last fall, is the kingdom where your spirits rise, vivacity accelerates, and the gray clammy feeling of routine is vanquished.
It speaks to the season, exhilarating and nerve-wrackingly hopeful, when Edmonton audiences began to return, in person, to the theatre. There were setbacks, to be sure, and apprehension — and for artists and exhausted directors panicky moments when casts of understudies were rehearsing by day for performances that very evening.
What did we see? Here’s a small assortment, in no particular order, of highlights, part two of our re-visit to the theatre season.
A selection of performances that linger in the mind:
Hayley Gillis, captivating as the watchful, stubbornly resistant Jane Eyre, who lives with the ghosts of her past in Erin Shields’ theatrical adaptation at the Citadel.
In Stewart Lemoine’s Fever Land, Jenny McKillop as the wide-eyed not-quite-young junior high teacher whose routine life is cracked wide open by an illicit, and doomed, affair.
Patricia Cerra, as the competent gainfully employed sister amazed to find herself improvising, against her own better judgment, as she scrambles to shore up their lives against encroaching chaos in Holly Lewis’s The Fiancée at the Citadel.
Sheldon Elter as the burly Métis oil patch worker Floyd gradually becoming one with Nature in Matthew MacKenzie’s Bears in the Punctuate! production.
Christina Nguyen’s remarkably physicalized display of first-person storytelling under duress as the title character in Lianna Makuch’s Alina.
Kristi Hansen as a harried, professional, unravelling in perpetual hope, trying to conceive in Belinda Cornish’s Hiraeth.
Alexandra Dawkins in Steven Dietz’s Bloomsday as the appealingly impulsive, quick-witted Irish girl with the terrible gift of prophecy.
Elena Belyea in her own Tiny Bear Jaws play I Don’t Even Miss You, heartbreakingly resilient and resourceful as Basil, reviewing their memory reservoir in the time after waking up one morning in a world that looks familiar but is completely devoid of in-person human contact.
Oscar Derkx as the reluctant romantic lead, perfectly of the ‘50s, dragged unwillingly into assisting the title amnesiac to find herself in Evelyn Strange, at Teatro La Quindicina.
Andrew MacDonald-Smith doing hilarious double-duty as the pompous director convinced he’s the only really serious thesp in the company, and the actor playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Citadel.
Andrew Kushnir as the funny, exasperated, anxious perpetually aggrieved local showbiz “celebrity” in The Garneau Block.
Duos of the season:
Rebecca Sadowski and Kaeley Jade Wiebe, inseparable sisters in Two-Headed Half-Hearted at Northern Light Theatre. Responsible for the season’s trickiest physical challenge: conjoined twins playing the guitar together.
Farren Timoteo and Andrew MacDonald-Smith, who provoke each other to a hilarious out-and-out brawl in Teatro La Quindicina’s four-door three-actor farce A Grand Time in the Rapids.
Laugh out-loud scene of the season: Etiquette expert Ted Todd (Farren Timoteo), possessor of “a flexible tenor voice,” doing aerobic vocal warm-ups in A Grand Time in the Rapids.
The improbable made compelling, in comedy: This was the season we saw (against the odds) … a land claim comedy: the surprisingly genial two-hander Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor, a Shadow Theatre production. And a comedy, albeit a wistful one, about IVF (in vitro fertilization), Belinda Cornish’s Hiraeth, from Bright Young Things.
Memorable contributions in set, lighting, and projection design:
Bonnie Beecher’s beautiful lighting, a crucial dramatic participant in the challenge of storytelling in bringing a long complicated 19th century novel to the stage in Jane Eyre along with the storeys-high gauze-backed set designed by Anahgita Dehbonehie.
T. Erin Gruber’s glow-in-the-dark playground of cutouts for the journey through the wilderness in Bears, exquisitely transformed by her lighting and projections.
Daniel vanHeyst’s lovely lakeshore design of wild rice banks and wooden decks set forth the stakes in Cottagers and Indians.
Narda McCarroll’s glowing design for The Garneau Block, evoking a neighbourhood from its moving parts, open-sided frames set against a stylized city skyline of lights and towers.
Ian Jackson’s projection-scape of emoji’s and internet flashes for the characters of Tell Us What Happened, who exist as roommates in a real apartment but really live on their cellphones.
Trevor Schmidt’s stunning prairie shrine, with its bank of cornstalks and ghostly farmhouse facade, lighted with mystery, for the human sculpture of conjoined twins in Two-Headed Half-Hearted.
Whittyn Jason’s oddball and fascinating collection of … stuff, to immerse us in the minutiae of memory and the inheritance of stories that go into a life in ren & the wake.
Beyata Hackborn’s striking rainbow of piano fragments — keys, strings, sounding plates — anchored by an accordion at one end, for Metronome, a personal memoire about a life changed forever by music.
With a “home” made of layers of its skeletal frames and un-solid translucent walls Stephanie Bahniuk’s design for Michael Mysterious captures something of the fragility of “family,” and the mismatched human assortment that goes into building one.
Andy Moro’s striking design for The Herd, dominated by an undulating translucent screen that evokes the prairies, with an open-work lattice through which the past is sometimes glimpsed. An eloquent contributor to Kenneth T. Williams’ play, that takes us into the tension between Indigenous tradition and a present fraught with complex questions for the band chief.
Mantra of the season: “Let’s Fix It.” It’s about fractious neighbours coming together in The Garneau Block. But it has all kinds of implications for theatre.
The most startling theatre experience of the season: As You Like It, A Radical Retelling.
Memorable contributions in small roles: Lora Brovold as the wise-cracking tough-cookie landlady Mrs. Crotch in The Fiancée; Jesse Gervais as the new boyfriend/reluctant father figure in Michael Mysterious, who bends himself into pretzels trying to assert himself without looking assertive.
The line that most captures our collective experience of the last two years: “it’s no o’clock,” from Bloomsday, at Shadow Theatre.
Newcomers of the season: There were many. But here are a couple of musical theatre composers who stood out. Neither Lindsey Walker not Simon Abbott are new to showbiz. The former, an alt-folk rocker hitherto, moves into musical theatre with her score for ren & the wake. Composer Simon Abbott, an indispensable part of Grindstone’s improvised The 11 O’Clock Number, wrote satirical, fun, and clever songs (lyrics co-written with Byron Martin) for Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer.
Listen to the music:
Matthew Skopyk’s amusing score for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival shows in the park. His score for The Garneau Block captures the speedy rhythms and texture of neighbours intersecting.
Erik Mortimer’s witty score, woven with giddy hints of retail, for A Fit, Happy Life, set in an old-school department store.
Noor Dean Musani, an electronic music expert (aka dj phatcat), moved the protagonist through time and space in Bears, with sound. And his score for Alina, an ominous industrial buzz with eruptions, was an outstanding dramatic participant of that multi-disciplinary solo war story.
Is it all coming back to you? Did you have a look at ‘Celebrating the Edmonton theatre season, part one? Read it here.