The February blahs used to refer to that downtrodden feeling you got during the coldest, shortest month of the year, midway through a season of snow and slush, wondering if it will ever end. In Ottawa now, however, the February blahs refer to what you feel when UNDERCURRENTS is over. Happily, the little Theatre Festival that could has only just begun its third incarnation, and it appears to be bigger and sweeter than ever. Seven shows, 45 performances by 46 artists, two world premieres and one Little Orange Man…fest director Pat Gauthier looks like he’s outdone himself this year, and I couldn’t be giddier.
Last night was opening night for the two-week festival, with three premieres lined up. Excited as I was, I stayed downtown after work, had some coffee, read and re-read the fest schedule, had a beer, geeked out over the schedule again, had another beer, realized I probably should have had dinner, checked the time, and realized it was way too late because it was time to hit the theatre! I scuttled over to the GCTC at Holland and Wellington, where the Undercurrents fest makes its home in the swell second-floor studio space. I chatted a spell with some of the luminaries out in force for opening night, including fellow superfan Richard Hemphill (who would go on to pull a Nancy Kenny and make his way into not one, but TWO sold-out shows that evening), before heading in and nabbing a front-row seat for the first show of the 2013 festival.
The latest from girl-centric Ottawa superstars DELUXE HOT SAUCE (last seen at SubDevision last year with FIRST DUSK, LAST LIGHT) and a project in the works for quite some time now, SKIN is a collaborative, imagination-heavy piece inspired by the Selkie legends of seals who would shed their skin to become women, only to eventually pine once again for the sea. Exploring the ways in which women feel trapped and lose their sense of identity with a mix of myth and modernity, the Saucies bring all the weapons in their considerable theatrical arsenal to bear for this exceptional show. Featuring the collective and bloody outstanding onstage talent of Sarah Finn, Kelly Rigole (who both become the first actors to appear in two separate Undercurrents shows, I do believe), Katie Bunting, Annie Lefebvre, Beverly Wolfe, Doreen Taylor-Claxton, and token dude Nick Carpenter. Providing much of the onstage musical accompaniment (and being gifted with maybe the funniest line in the whole production), messr.Carpenter actually composed the original score, based on the ‘skin signatures’ of the leading ladies (ie: mapping out various moles, freckles and scars on their bodies, and turning those points into musical notes). The result is so sweet you’d never suspect the origins if you didn’t know before hand.
Combining near-slapstick comedy right off the bat with inspiring physical performances and judicious use of a smashing fake beard, the Saucies rule the studio stage like few who have ever set foot in there before. The central theme, told and retold as different women assume the ‘skin’ of a housewife in a fable, gets driven powerfully home in a heartbreaking final monologue from Sarah Finn, who has been absent from Ottawa stages for way too long, I say. There is much to love in this production, from the aforementioned gorgeous soundtrack (accentuated by the deeply haunting vocals of the amazing Doreen Taylor-Claxton), to the intricate staging from director Martha Ross (The suitcase scene is a particular fav’rit of mine), aided by movement coaching from the lady Alix Sideris, who is just all over the place this month, and I LOVE it. And yes, I’m gushing, and rightfully so, goddammit. SKIN is an incredible kickoff to the third edition of Undercurrents (or LADYCURRENTS as Rich nicknamed it, and I think this year it’s quite apt), and I would pay good coin to see it again. Thankfully, if I miss an extra viewing, the Saucies are already due to return for the second edition of SubDevision later this year, this time as part of the Magnetic North Festival…it seems amazing theatre festivals are just how they roll.
So, chalk up the first win for Undercurrents 2013…and there was more to come that night. Up next…BREAD! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)