Wow, it seems like only two years since I attended my first ever MAGNETIC NORTH theatre festival, and now that I think about it that sounds about right. Canada’s National theatre series, the MagNorth gang picks up sticks and travels to a different Canuck city every two years (last year it was Calgary), returning to home base in Ottawa the years in between. And lucky us, this year is an in-between year, and a boatload of jolly good theatre has just landed on our doorstep.
Last night was the official opening night for the festival with the premiere at the NAC Theatre of Michel Tremblay’s FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN, courtesy of Western Theatre Canada out of Kamloops. Translated here by Linda Gaboriau, and directed by Glynis Leyshon, the festival gets itself off to a high-profile beginning with Lorne Cardinal and Margo Kane in the starring roles. Cardinal, probably best known to Canadian audiences as Davis in the long-running CORNER GAS, plays our narrator (a thinly-veiled analogue of superstar playwright Tremblay himself) in this love letter from Tremblay to his departed Mother, who passed away before he had the chance to make a name for himself. With this show, we relive some of the moments they shared together, from the silly to the sillier, from the tragic to the magical. Sharing the stage with a glorious Margo Kane as Nana, Cardinal remains seated for the lion’s share of the duration as his imaginative, exasperating Mother runs rings around him, spinning wild tales, arguing the merits of French literature, and just generally charming the pants off of the entire audience. Her energetic, heartfelt performance is a joyous sight to watch, inspiring a lot of laughs and a few tears (at least in this old softie), and I’d be very surprised if SOMEthing about her doesn’t remind you at least a little bit of your own Mom.
Not to slight Cardinal’s work…after a hilarious opening bit, he becomes our narrator at various ages, from ten on up, all pouts, taunts and whinges, and it’s all pretty delightfful. As expected, there’s a heck of an emotional wallop looming in this piece, and I actually felt like they could have ramped that up a notch or two for extra effect (but maybe I’m just dead inside). And the story itself is a simple affair…stories, anecdotes…memories. This is clearlya very personal work, and one can feel almost voyeuristic (in a good way) watching it. As for the ending itself, I’m not saying a WORD. But you really want to see it. The set by designer Pam Johnson is just goddamn lovely, with a few surprises up its large-looming sleeves. And all in all, I’d say the festival is off to a great start (and I take it as a pleasant omen that, on the night I saw this show, I myself had the pleasure of seeing my friend Nancy again after way too long…welcome back, you!). I’ve got A BRIMFUL OF ASHA on deck for tonight, then my inaugural trip the Festival Bar at Club SAW. See you there! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)