I saw four shows last week. Four very different shows.
The first was East of Berlin, by Ottawa playwright Hannah Moscovitch. In many ways it’s my favourite kind of theatre; funny, important, intimate. This Tarragon Theatre production (presented by the Cultch as part of the Chutzpah! festival of Jewish performing arts) is solid. As the central character, Rudi, Brendan Gall is endearing and quirky, masterfully delivering Moscovitch’s unfinished thoughts. Some of his physical tics flirt with excess but on the whole, he is an able storyteller, nimbly navigating the depth and humour of the writing. Paul Dunn as Rudi’s teenage friend Hermann is less successful. Given the same pattern of incomplete sentences, Dunn runs out of steam ahead of the script, making it too easy for us to see the words on the page. As Rudi’s love interest Sarah, Diana Donnelly is remarkable, giving one of those completely realized performances that make it hard to see the actor beneath the character. Her emotional commitment to the material seems absolute and effortless, complexly layered and unselfconsciously transparent.
The script is strong in many ways, rendering human portraits and an intriguing story, and the directing and design enhance the experience. But as is too often the case, the play’s ending was less than satisfying. Completely engaged throughout, I felt shortchanged by the final minutes, which provided easy answers to complicated questions. Nonetheless, it was the most compelling of this week’s shows and I am glad to have seen it.
ProArteDanze is another Toronto import, also part of the Chutzpah! festival. They are accomplished dancers and the program was varied and fun. One piece in particular, a new duet choreographed by Kevin O’Day and created for Robert Glumbek and Emily Molnar, was delightful. Athletic, elegant, and fun, it carried us forward, involving us in the world of the dance so completely that we were sorry to see it end. Glumbek’s solo was also evocative and involving. He understands the necessity for dancers to connect to the context of the work, to make the emotional physical. Not all the dancers were equally successful in this regard and the “soundscape” of the opening piece aggravated this problem. Where music might have supplied some of the emotional score the dancers neglected, the techno-industrial sounds accompanying the piece distanced us even farther.
Shakespeare’s Coriolanus has apparently not been performed in Vancouver for more than 100 years. That makes the current production at the Jericho Arts Centre very exciting, a feeling obviously shared by the many fine actors Jack Paterson was able to assemble for his mounting. The magnetic cast is uniformly strong. But whenever a play has not been performed much, the question must arise whether it should be. Sadly, the answer here is likely “no”. Despite creative contemporary staging and dynamic performances, the script does not offer sufficient intrigue or – dare I say it – complexity, to maintain our interest.
I finished the week with a Saturday matinee of a high school production of Our Town. Directed by TWU grad, Robyn Roukema, the show has more than 30 students from middle and high school to people Grover’s Corners. Seeing the work necessary to transform a gymnasium into a theatre and knowing how much Robyn had to do herself was inspiring. It was also a good reminder of why I don’t teach high school. I directed Our Town many years ago but had forgotten what a profound, insightful play it is. Or maybe because I’m farther along life’s path the simple truths could speak to me more clearly.
Each of these shows taught me something; about theatre, about the world, about myself. But there’s something fittingly ironic about seeing Our Town at the end of a four-show week. “Pay attention to your life,” says Wilder, “every, every minute.” I am a hurrier, a multi-tasker, a workaholic, and I am thankful for his reminder to see the beauty of this world in the light of eternity.
I think I’ll go hang out with my kids.