Let’s take a little trip back in time, to explore some long-gone Ottawa lore, shall we? Picture this: it’s Saturday June 19th, 1999, closing in on 6 pm. You’re at opening day of the second ever Ottawa Fringe Festival, looking for a good show to hit up. You’ve already caught THE BOSNIAN BOYS and HITCHHIKING TO THE END OF THE WORLD, and have to meet a friend at Academic Hall at 7:30 for Screwed and Clued’s latest, TRENCH. But you don’t really have any leads on the 6pm slot, so you figure, fuck it, I like the seats at Arts Court, I’ll check out whatever’s on in the theatre. If it sucks, at least you can rest your eyes comfortably, right? You buy your ticket (seven bucks?? Shoulda bought a pass. Next year.) and head on in, wondering what the company, Black Banana Productions, has in store. The set is as sparse as it gets, just a solitary chair amid the dimly-lit surroundings. God, you hope it isn’t some artsy-fartsy experimental crap, you HATE that. But you don’t know anything about the show about to start. You have no idea you’re about to become part of Ottawa Theatre History. You’re about to see the world premiere, my friend, of BLOOD ON THE MOON.
Several remounts, NAC appearances, world tours, one Gemini-award-winning tv movie and 13 years later…
Yes, it’s back, it’s back, it’s goddamn-well back, and I couldn’t be more goofily thrilled about it. Pierre Brault’s legendary, put-the-Fringe-on-the-map one man show is back for a well-deserved remount at the GCTC, and I actually got to see it (I honestly thought I never, ever would)! Not that this was planned, even…the return is a last-minute affair, the result of some unfortunate bad news and health woes involving Maja Ardal, star of YOU FANCY YOURSELF, the show that was supposed to have been premiering tonight. Sadly, she had to cancel (although we’re told she is on the mend and things are looking up, so YAY! ), but Pierre and the gang stepped up, including John ‘Killer’ Koensgen on direction duties, producer Judi Pearl, Sound designer Marc Desormeaux, Stage Manager Samira Rose and ‘Scenographer’ Martin Conboy (I only put it in italics because I’m congenitally stoopid and don’t know what a scenographer IS…tho I assume it’s awesome).
The hype was high, to say the least. This is a show so well-loved an image of it is literally painted onto the Elgin street facade of the National Arts Centre. That’s kind of hard to argue with, really. But, we must come at it fresh, oui? Can’t be intimidated by the past press, this is a fresh run from the good folks at Sleeping Dog (I guess they rethought that ‘Black Banana’ moniker PDQ) and it deserves fresh eyes. So, I suited up in some swell duds (which NO ONE commented on, le sigh), called up/begged Fringe overlord Natalie Joy to tag along, and was off to the Oiving Greenboig for a perfectly unbiased, even-handed look at OHMIGOD ITS FUCKING BLOOD ON THE MOON OHMIGOD!!!
…Yeah, you saw that coming didn’t you? It was amazing, and that’s no hype. Pierre Brault, for those who haven’t seen him in action, is just about as engaging and versatile a performer you’re likely to see on a theatre stage in your lifetime, and I highly recommend the experience. Along with the other star of the show, namely the brilliantly staged lighting effects (no lighting designer is mentioned in the program, but I’m guessing that maybe it falls under the header of ‘scenography’..? *ETA: I just checked one of the handy media kits I was sent, and it was Conboy indeed who gets the credit…I should read those things more often), Pierre leads on a theatrical vision of a true life bit of Canadian history…the murder of Thomas Darcy McGee. And our host for the tale is none other than the man convicted and hanged for the crime, James Patrick Whelan. From his tiny, squalid cell in the downtown Hostel (no, really), Whelan leads us through his version of events, protesting his innocence and pointing out the glaring flaws in the prosecution’s case, allowing us to be his new jury.
And the case is strong, raising all too many images of saps railroaded through courtrooms to satisfy a public outcry for results. DID Whelan do the deed? No one can ever be sure (but, let’s face it, probably not), but Brault places more than enough doubt in all our minds to bring this piece of history to terrible life before our eyes. A master at work, Brault slips with ease into over a dozen different courtroom witnesses to replay the crucial trial, along with the ever-present Whelan, portrayed here as an easygoing Irish lad who only longs to be reunited with his true love Bridget. In their honour, I am drinking Irish whiskey as I write this.
So yeah, major props to Brault and company for this show, which is everything I expected it to be and more. Brault was as impressive, if not more, as the first time I saw him a few years back in his incredible PORTRAIT OF AN UNIDENTIFIED MAN. The lights AND sound were spot-on, and the emotional sniper-shots (pardon the poor taste of the metaphor) hit all the targets. Picture-perfect theatre, folks. It runs til February 5th. Do yourself a favour, and find out WHY it’s a legend. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)
PS: I want to officially start, as of now, the campaign to get Maja Ardal’s YOU FANCY YOURSELF onto next season’s GCTC schedule. It’s the right thing to do, and you know it. Represent!
PPS: Thanks to superstar Judi Pearl, for correcting my dumbness…Mr.Conboy, I finally got your name right!