Right, I’m just gonna ease on back into this…roll the shoulders, adjust the chair, dust off the keyboard (I bet all the cool, hip bloggers don’t even USE keyboards, probably just dictate to their write-a-bots…no, don’t think that way! Be positive! Mind your problematic goddamn tone, you fool! Onwards!) and just go for it. Write a thing. Deep breath, and…
So hey, Theatre! It’s a chock full week and month here in suddenly snowy-again Ottawa, and tonight was my night to hop on good old #14 and swing by the Gladstone Theatre in little Italy. A late but very welcome addition to their crazily full roster was up to bat, and it was one I wouldn’t have missed for a hot plate of cookies, Marie Jones’ A NIGHT IN NOVEMBER, performed by Pierre Brault. Yes, a solo Pierre Brault show! Maybe the closest thing to a theatrical sure thing this city will ever know.
But I must be objective! Nothing is a sure thing. And, hey, this isn’t a reg’lar PB show…he didn’t create this one like his beloved classics BLOOD ON THE MOON or PORTRAIT OF AN UNIDENTIFIED MAN, rather it is a piece penned by Irish playwright Marie Jones. Ottawa audiences should remember her from fairly recent shows of hers, STONES IN HIS POCKETS and FLY ME TO THE MOON, both from Seven Thirty Productions I believe. She’s a solidly acclaimed authour and crafted ‘A Night in November’ in 1994, based on true events. It follows the troubled mind of one Kenneth McAllister, a modest dole clerk in Belfast. Ostensibly enjoying his dull but trouble-free life (he just got accepted into the local golf club, huzzah!), something starts to go askew for him when, on the titular evening in November, he is forced to accompany his elderly, chain-smoking stepdad Ernie to a football match (Soccer, for any American readers who are here for reasons I will never understand) between Ireland and…Ireland? The Republic of Ireland? Sorry, here I will pause to admit that the intricacies of the internecine strife affectionately known as ‘the troubles’ still baffles me, a perennial slipwit, to no end. I’m not even honestly sure if I used the word ‘internecine’ correctly just now. I have a wikipedia page open-tabbed, and am trying to learn. Baby steps. Right, right…Northern Ireland, IRA…it’s all starting to sound familiar! Terrible, but familiar.
Anyhoo, the match devolves into a violently ugly showdown between two warring factions, with Protestants hurling vile epithets at Catholics, evoking mass murders with demented glee, and forcing a would-be bystander like Kenneth to play along, if only out of fear for his own safety. But from that point on, he just can’t look at his world the same way. What side he’s on, what country he claims allegiance to, even what love he has for his wife is put to the test. It puts Kenneth on a path he never saw coming, and which the audience probably won’t either.
It’s a raucous, human and political play. Dealing with nationalistic racism intended for a different generation but all-too pitifully relevant today. At least a dozen characters pass by in the course of the runtime, every one played by Pierre, who is absolutely in his element under those conditions. Watching him transition from one player to the next, conversing with himself with seemingly effortless ease, is always a giddy delight. His replaying of the football match, seething with bigotry, hatred, manic fervor and fear, is a palpable thrill, even as Kenneth’s ill-advised political outburst to a home full of party guests left the whole theatre dead silent. Terrific and exciting stuff, even for diehard Brault fans. And their use of the leftover setpieces from Tototoo’s THE NORMAL HEART..? Just magic.
So here I sit, at home at the computer, sipping a bit of Jameson’s and listening to Clannad for inspiration, and hoping this measly missive will convince another bum or two into the Gladstone seats for the next few nights before the brief run finishes on, of course, St.Patrick’s Day. You’re gonna want to be able to say you saw this, gang. And hey, you support Indie Theatre too! Kind of a win/win. Peace, love and soul,