After I saw the Canadian Stage production of David Mamet's RACE on Friday, I reserved a copy of the play at the public library. The play is so fast-paced and so full of banter-y dialogue, I felt like I missed some of the stark Mamet insight. The pace of the play is the best and worst thing about it. No - scratch that - Nigel Shawn Williams is the best thing about RACE; the speed of the script is the second. The snappy exchanges and cuttingly flippant remarks are thrown back and forth like a tennis-match on speed. It's great. All of the actors seem to be masters of their own tongues and each found their way through the dialogue in a way that would make Aaron Sorkin proud.
It works; until it doesn't.
The quick, bouncy, often heated, exchanges are inherent in the script; Mamet clearly wrote for this kind of fast delivery. But there were times when it seemed like the pace of the dialogue was driving the play forward, and not the actual words themselves. There were moments when I wanted the pace to relax, where it could have relaxed, shown us something powerfully different with the characters, and then sped right up again.
But that's the con of the show; the pros are (among others) that the acting was fab and the set design was amazing. Yes, Jason Priestly can carry his own on stage. No, he's not as commanding of a presence as Nigel Shawn Williams, but few would be, and I thought Priestly embodied the typical Mamettian-male character with comfort and originality. Williams is amazing. From his commandeering voice to his hilariously scathing lines, he's villainously cold, but you still root for him. Cara Ricketts sparkles as the legal associate with a mind of her own and Matthew Edison is appropriately pathetic as the man on trial for a heinous crime we've heard too much about as of late.
Debra Hanson's stark and overwhelming set-design was beautiful. File cabinets that reached up to the heavens provided an intimidating backdrop for stark, colourless, masculine office furniture. It was pretty, it was effective and I loved looking at it just as much as I did watching the actors.
RACE is 100 minutes of snappy theatre fun and while I wish I could have soaked in all the dialogue while watching the play, I'm jazzed to read it and acquaint myself with the characters again.
All Mamet-motherf*@%ing 4 of them.
RACE is on at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.() until May 5. For tix call: 416-368-3110 or click here. $10 rush tix through the Canadian Stage Facebook pg! Click here and get 'em!
1. Where did the idea for the show come from?
The idea for the show came about after I read Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman's short story about her experience travelling to Africa, getting bitten by a mosquito and becoming infected with malaria. I have been interested in creating theatre that merges with dance, and trying to tell stories in a physical way, and the images from the short story jumped off the page.
2. What was it about Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman's short story that made you want to choreograph a performance about it?
I had a vision of the mosquitos and thought it would be interesting to try to create a military of mosquitos on a solitary mission to infect the girl in the story. So, this "greek chorus" of mosquitos escorts the main character through her story, playing various roles in this wild tale, including the robotic stewardesses on the plane, the propellors, the military of infected mosquitos, and even the nightmarish chickens having their heads cut off outside her hospital room window!
3. From conception through to the end of rehearsals, how long did the project take to conceive? What obstacles, if any, did you encounter along the way?
I started to choreograph sections of this in 2009 with my students in the dance program at George Brown College. Then Charlotte, Trish Fagan and myself did a 3 day workshop at The Canadian Stage Company's Festival of Ideas and Creation. But most of MALARIA LULLABY was created especially for the SummerWorks Festival this year.
We have had some obstacles - since there is a lot of Aerial trapeze work, Holly Treddenick (our Aerial designer and rigger) had to spend many hours figuring out the rigging and how it would all work in only 4 hours of tech time in the theatre!
3. Why this production for SummerWorks? What is it about the SummerWorks platform that made you want to be a part of it.
SummerWorks is the perfect platform for this show. We were able to take many big risks and incorporate a lot into this show. Dance, Aerials, and stunning Projections and Sound by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson of Playground Studios. I was really excited to create a hybrid dance/theatre piece for the SummerWorks audience. SummerWorks is an exciting festival and it is an honour to be a part of it.
4. Does your approach as a choreographer differ if you do or do not dance in the show? If yes, how so?
My approach as a choreographer doesn't differ if I am in the show, but it takes a little more time to create if I am also in it. I decided not to dance in MALARIA LULLABY this time around because we were limited for time in the rehearsal hall so I felt pretty strongly about staying on the outside.
5. What other shows at SummerWorks are you looking forward to seeing?
I am looking forward to seeing LITTLE ONE. I am a huge fan of Michelle Monteith and Hannah Moscovitch and Natasha Mytnowych (and they are my friends!) And I am looking forward to seeing COMBAT which also fuses dance and theatre.
MALARIA LULLABY is on now at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave). Showtimes:
Sun. Aug. 7 @10:30pm; Thurs. Aug. 11 @8pm; Sat. Aug. 13 @10:30pm; Sun. Aug. 14 @8pm
Visit the website: www.companyblonde.com & the Facebook page
Theatre Director and Canadian Stage Artistic Coordinator, Joanne Williams, answered a few questions for me about her upcoming Fringe show, FINALLY: AN EPIC CYCLE and what it all means to be in the Toronto Fringe Festival. Recognize her name? She was recently featured wearing a super cute outfit in The Grid. Check that out here.
Check out the Q&A right here:
Q: Tell me about the show. How did you get involved?
A: Finally: an Epic Cycle is a new play by Sarah Cody. It is a comedy about relationships, bike messengers, and underdog hockey franchises. We suppose the Leafs are in the Stanley Cup finals, and our protagonist loses her tickets on the day of the final game. We follow her on her epic journey to recover her tickets, which includes a nerdy roommate, pretentious coffee shops, elusive bike messengers, and self-realizations.
I got involved after directing Sarah in a short comedy by Neale Kimmel at Alumnae Theatre's New Ideas Festival. At that time Sarah was developing the script as she had landed a spot at the Fringe, and she asked me to direct. We started working on the show just over a month ago, and we gathered the rest of the team (actors Luke Marty, Derek Perks, Cassie Muise and Michael Rode plus stage manager Neal MacLean) from our various artistic circles.
Q: Why this show for the Fringe? How is it suited for a Fringe festival environment?
A: In my experience, Fringe audiences react best to comedy. There's a populism to the festival, and I would be wary to attempt to present a piece that's experimental. Timelines are shorter than professional pieces, and technical possibilities are minimal, so a contemporary piece that relies mainly on the dialogue and character relationships are the best suited to the festival.
Finally: an Epic Cycle is a smart comedy set in Toronto which connects the worlds of bike messengers, the Maple Leafs, advertising executives, and freelance writers. The engaging characters make it a perfect show for Fringe. For me, it was an opportunity to direct comedy where I tend to be more drawn to drama.
Q: How do you think your Directing work and your Arts Admin work at Canadian Stage compliment each other?
A: I'm exposed to the practices of professionals at the top of their game in our country at Canadian Stage. My approach as a director is informed by my work there, and the development of my skills as an artist feeds into my approach to arts admin. Working for a company with an ambitious vision helps my personal drive and commitment to artistic values.
Q: What is special/unique about having a show in the Toronto Fringe?
A: The Fringe enables productions to be mounted that wouldn't otherwise get a chance at this point in their development. At its best, Fringe is a chance to stretch your limits and to learn on your feet. Audiences are for the most part looking to be entertained, and it's a great challenge to try to satisfy that desire. The community surrounding Fringe is quite strong too, as you see when you visit the Fringe Tent!
Q: Why do you continue to do live theatre?
A: Live theatre has always been the art form that struck me the most profoundly and stayed with me more than other medium. For the most part, a film's plot escapes my mind once the credits roll, but I'll remember an actor in a live piece's costume perfectly, and be able to recall specifically how she moved. To work in a discipline that stirs me as much as theatre does is rewarding. I don't think live theatre has enough champions in our society and that also keeps me focused.
Q: If you could offer words of advice/encouragement to a newbie audience member to the Fringe scene, what would it be?
A: Ooo! The first time with Fringe is a lot of fun. Try to go to shows at non-traditional times: how great is it to get to see something like an emerging choreographer's homage to The Yeah Yeah Yeah's at 11pm at a downtown theatre? Go to venues you haven't been to before, & be honest with yourself about what kind of show you're in the mood for. I like to take a couple shows in on my own and go out of my comfort zone. Oh, and of course, I advise you to see Finally: An Epic Cycle
Finally: An Epic Cycle is on at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse on:
Friday, June 8 @1:15pm; Sat, July 9 @9:15pm; Mon, July 11 @10:45pm; Tues, July 12 @4:45pm; Thurs, July 14@9:30pm; Fri, July 15 @5:15pm; Sat, July 15 @1:45pm
Check them on Facebok, Follow 'em on twitter, or visit their url: www.phoneitinproductions.com