So it’s been a pretty swell start to a good-looking week of theatre, gang. I did this thing called ‘The Spa’ at the GCTC..? And…aaaaahhhhh, I’m so stoked about it, it’s a whole ‘nother blogpost. But for right now I gots to focus, because Holy Smokes, all the shows!! After a few years of not reviewing a damned thing, I suddenly find myself having scheduled myself three show reviews in 3 days. I don’t even remember if that’s a lot! But I know it’s been a long time since I took that stroll down Mackenzie King Bridge to Academic Hall, because DANG is the new OAG/Arts Court addition looking good! You can even see where the new Fringe Beer Tent area is gonna be, if you know where to look…
But lingering looks too had to wait, because the grandeur of Academic Hall waits for no man! I still managed to make it in plenty of time for the latest U of O’s Unicorn Theatre, Alcione de Araujo’s CARAVAN OF ILLUSION. I haven’t been to a student production in waaaay too long, so this was an extra-special delight. The Brazilian script was translated and directed by MFA candidate Ludmylla Reis, who had already convinced me she was part-superhuman with ‘translated and directed’. I get exhausted just trying to keep my comic collection catalogued properly.
For this show, Ludmylla and the gang have given Academic Hall a makeover, rearranging some seats and staging the whole thing essentially in the round, inviting the audience to seat themselves just as intimately as they felt like. It made that big’ol Hall feel like a smoky, black box studio in the seedy part of town, and I loved it. The action began with an unexpected burst of energy and group warm-up by the actors onstage and…in character? Not? It seemed a little from column A, little from column B, and was either brilliantly charming or a touch confusing. I’ll take it either way. Audiences SHOULD be confused!
The story began in earnest with a forlorn troupe of raggedy travelling artists (brothers Bufo and Lorde and sister Bela, along with their mute musician Ro) wandering the lonely backroads until they come to a literal crossroads. Recently orphaned and unsure how to proceed, Lorde begins to question his devotion to their clan’s traditional ways, while Bufo is adamant that their artistic legacy must continue. Enter mysterious gypsy traveller Ziga, who arrives on the scene with an exciting new perspective, stories of far-off lands, and more than a hint of romantic subplot. She shakes the works up but good, sparking a fateful decision at last.
The whole short and sweet tale serves as a wonderful melodic examination on the life of an artist, something that’s certainly been on my own mind of late, and how it meshes with the demands of some of the more seemingly pressing concerns of the modern world. Can one be a great artist without putting greatness over art? Does tradition stifle growth and change? Should we be drinking so much wine every night?? Now I admit I was hoping for a little more in the travelling-carnival, crusty magic department that the show looked so beautifully dressed up to provide (some lovely work from designers Angela Hache, Chantal Labonte and Margaret Coderre Williams, to name a few), but there was still plenty of beautiful song, thoughtful storytelling, haunting music and spirited dance to get us by. The ensemble cast of Katrina Soroka, Jon Dickey, Robin Breiche, Kevin Burke and Zaachirah Chubb were a delight, earnest and unpretentious in tackling this stripped down, very theatrical style of storytelling. My personal fav’rit was Ro…I’m a sucker for a mute in a mask, you guys. This was a fun, smart and almost meditative show that I wish had been a wee bit more circus-y, but hey, if wishes were horses, I’d have a well-organized comic collection. Or horses. Something.
Bottom line, CARAVAN OF ILLUSION is a proper theatrical funtime with a wise heart, beautifully staged by Reis, and it plays at Academic Hall until the 24th (8pm every night, I do believe). Now get on out there and see it for yourself, and maybe I’ll pass you on the way to Ottawa Little Theatre tomorrow night for show number 2 of the week! Hooray! Peace, love and soul,