You know what I love? Studios. I mean, theatres are great and all, but theatre studio spaces? LOVE’em. They’re all smaller and intimate and cozy and, call me crazy, but I feel like on the whole the shows held in studio spaces are just a LITTLE bit cooler. Maybe just because they ARE smaller…and smaller shows take more chances, you dig?
Okay, okay…the show I’m about to talk about was in the studio space at the National Arts Centre…we aren’t talking the basement at the local Legion Hall or anything (incidentally, let’s start having theatre at the local Legion Hall! Whoo!). And when I walked into the NAC last night, I saw more people there than I had in a long while…seems my ‘small studio show’ was opening on the same night as ZZ TOP was playing Southam Hall, which made for a terrifically hilarious juxtaposition of crowds indeed. Never seen the posh bartenders in that place so busy in my LIFE. But, after fighting thru the face-painted throngs with some of my familiar theatre-folk (SALT-WATER MOON’s Jamie Mac for one, and a mini-St.Lawrnce Shakespeare Festival reunion of Cat Leger, Brad Long and Quincy Armorer among other luminaries), we made it inside my beloved studio for that evening’s non-Monster of Rock show, Dionne Brand’s THIRSTY. Brand is a poet, and a poet laureate at that, which already had my interest pique for the show, not to mention intimidating me more than a little. Outside of a few brief visits to Ottawa’s thriving slam poetry culture, my poetic sensibilities are pretty much nonexistent. But I was game, and so it seemed were plenty of other people who were willing to resist the siren call of SHARP-DRESSED MAN from down the hall.
THIRSTY also featured direction by outgoing NAC English Theatre artistic director Peter Hinton, another selling point. The set from Gillian Gallow was a beaut right off the bat, and got me in the mood for something special. The show, based on Brand’s book of poetry of the same name, centers around a family of immigrants who take root in Toronto. Julia (Audrey Dwyer) arrives first, later followed by husband Alan (Andrew Moodie), and finally his mother Chloe (Jackie Richardson) and daughter, only ever know as ‘Girl’ (Carol Cece Anderson). The play opens with a tragedy, then returns to the beginning and follows the twisting, tragic road right back to that explosive moment. It’s a piece that immerses you in its words and characters almost immediately, and never lets go. Brand’s sweet poetry comes off as a kind of modern Shakespeare, beautiful and timely, and merciless in the face of disaster. To bring those words to light are a dream team of onstage talent…Moodie is a firebrand as Alan, the strong, loving husband who spirals into obsessive mania in his uncomfortable new world. And Audrey Dwyer is more than a match for him, exuding strength and emotion, and looking pretty fab while doing it. Carol Anderson was bloody wonderful as Girl…and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house during her reunion scene with Julia. And Jackie Richardson makes for a marvellous Mother Chloe, that gorgeous voice of hers making sweet music out of Brand’s words. They’re ALL gorgeous voices, actually, and they each bring the amazing dialogue of the show to life in incredible ways, that you won’t soon forget. Can’t say enough about the cast…just about perfect.
THIRSTY is a pretty special evening indeed, with some amazing talent onstage AND off…the sound and lights from Troy Slocum and Louise Guinard, respectively, are definitely worth a mention. It’s not an easy show, and one that should stick with you well after viewing. I did find one or two directorial flourishes to be bordering on over-the-top, but not enough to detract from the whole. If this is Hinton’s swan song at the NAC, he picked a great one, and he did good by it. I’d say, get going to this one before the inevitable buzz sweeps up all the tickets…this is the kind of show that doesn’t come along too often. Although slightly more often than ZZ Top plays the NAC, but only just. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)