Practicing Hope

Had a great lunch with the wonderful Nadine Thornhill yesterday.  We were supposed to be meeting for pancakes, but were too late for that, but still had good food to go along with great palaver.  It was the latest in an odd string of pseudo-dates I’ve had recently with some of the cutest and most talented ladies in the Ottawa theatre scene, and I’m almost starting to think I’m being punk’d or something.  This just isn’t ME, you dig?  But, seeing as how Nadine and I are now arm-in-arming it to the Prix Rideau Awards next Sunday (hopefully with the blessing of her Man of Mans, who is apparently a fan of the old Visitorium rag), I guess the joke ain’t over yet, and who am I to stop the fun now?

So buoyed by that good tiding, I all but sailed in to my volunteer shift tonite at the GCTC, for their latest show THE MIDDLE PLACE, a Project Humanity production by Andrew Kushnir, who also performs.  This was only my second foray into Verbatim Theatre (ie: Recording the words of ordinary people and using that as your ‘script’), the first being the superwonderful THIS IS A RECORDING, about which I have raved at length elsewhere.  So I was mightily excited.  And not just because I had some pre-show chat with ANTIGONE’s Richard Gelinas and Simon Bradshaw (of THIS IS A RECORDING, dont’cha know), and beloved acting Boss Barry Karp who had come to see their show.  THE MIDDLE PLACE itself was a little poorly attended tonite, but I intend to do what I can to remedy THAT silly situation.

The set is perfectly simple, a single white disc, ala FLASH GORDON (minus the spikes), which holds our four actors ( a fifth, playwright Kushnir, acts as the questioner throughout the audience after a dramatic arrival).  The Onstage actors, Akosua Amo-Adem, Antonio Cayonne, Monica Dottor and Kevin Walker, all do beautifully timed and staged double duty as both the residents and staffers of a shelter for homeless youth located in a particularly nasty section of Toronto.  The play debuted ( I do believe) at the Summerworks festival in TO a few years back, and it’s absolutely my kinda show.  A few simple sound and light effects are well-used to heighten the distinction between those who work at the shelter, and those who simply end up there.  I especially dug the way actors would sort of ‘step into’ a new voice when they made an entrance onto the disc/stage.

The story, or stories rather, paint an alternately bleak and hopeful picture.  Somewhat anchored by Amo-Adem’s dominating Callie, the residents we’re introduced to are desperate, pleasant, angry, beaten-down, optimistic…a spectrum almost shocking in its ordinariness.  They’re just people, just kids, who ended up int he wrong place in their lives.  As a relatively pampered son of an upper middle-class family, I noticed how easy I had it, and it’s good to be reminded that not everyone does.  This show does that well, but it does not preach.  A key moment for me is when one of the staff is asked how one maintains hope in a place like this.  Her answer is ‘Practice’.  I like that.

I was mightily impressed with the actors across the board, and with words like these to work with, they can only be inspired.  THE MIDDLE PLACE is definitely one of the highlights of 2011 so far, and you should damn well make sure you get out and see it.  And while you’re at it, practice being hopeful.  Because that really, really sounds like a good idea to me.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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