I’ve been taking the number 14 bus to work for, oh, about 5 years now. It’s a wonky little route, overcrowded and underrun. It starts in my dodgy low-rent neighbourhood, through some mini-burbs, past the mental hospital (and I don’t mean the theatre, but that too), down through the nicer end of Hintonburg, little Italy, centretown, and on to the Rideau Centre and St.Laurent. I’ve seen some crazy shit on that route over the years, heard some crazy rants, and been accosted by more than one crazy goddamned rider. So I didn’t need convincing of the theatrical possibilities of life on the buses. Reg Varney is a teevee God for a REASON, after all.
Apparently, I was far from the only one who noticed this, because it turns out Axis Theatre outta Vancouver has been slaying audiences the country over for some twenty-odd years now with their bit of bus-driven spectacle, THE NUMBER 14. It even played at the GCTC a decade back, when it was still at what is now the Gladstone Theatre (which our #14 oh-so-coincidentally runs right past), and outgoing Artistic Director Lise-Ann Johnson figured this would be a dandy time to bring it back for another ride. And without breaking decorum or anything, HOLY BLUE BLAZING SHITBALLS am I glad she did. And so are you, even if you don’t know it yet.
Starring an inhumanly talented crop of out-West actors…Chris Adams, Morgan Brayton, Stefano Giulianetti, Neil Minor, Tracey Power and Scott Walters…and directed by Wayne Sprecht, the Number 14 is essentially a series of sketches relating to the perils and pitfalls of mass transit, from noisy kids and chatty patrons to leadfooted drivers and spraypainting hooligans. But to call this a sketch show would be to damn it with mighty faint praise indeed. The Axis gang pulls out every trick in the theatrical book, including masque, acrobatics, song and dance, and a pretty rough treatment of the fourth wall on occasion, to fill the stage with dozens of terrifically enjoyable characters and scenes that, if they don’t leave you smiling and wanting more, might be solid proof that you actually died on the way to the theatre. I was lucky enough to be there on the same night as the two best laughs in town, Brian Carroll and Zach Counsil…but don’t worry, whatever night you go on (if you can get a ticket), the room will be filled with laughs from the get go.
It’s pretty hard to pick out any specific highlights…this is the kind of show that I thought only existed in the wildest fantasy fever-dreams of theatre nerds like myself. But the above-pictures musical number is certainly a personal fav’rit…an amazing acrobatic number featuring a tumbling granny was singularly impressive to watch…solo routines by both a Vanilla Ice-esque rapper, and a guru-tastic homeless tramp were both brilliant…and a needs-to-be-seen-to-be-believed encounter between a gaggle of seniors and a kindergarten class, that serves as an amazing reminder of what you can accomplish on a stage, if you just have the imagination and the sheer brazen nerve to try it.
THE NUMBER 14 is sheer joy to behold, a family-friendly mashup of styles and genres that blend seamlessly together into one of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have in a theatre. I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention the AMAZING masks by designer Melody Anderson, or the terrific original score from Douglas Macauley. And kudos the the GCTC for an impressive vernissage in the upstairs Fritzi Yale gallery, with bus-themed multimedia art on display from Stuart Kinmond and Chris Brown. It’s good stuff…and the OC Transpo gear on display was the icing on the cake (LOVED the old tank of a bus parked outside the theatre). And thanks too to my company for the evening, the delightful Vicki Mavraganis…glad you enjoyed the show too! The 14 runs until December 16th, and just trust me…Don’t miss the bus. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)