Except for two major actors whose roles have been reprised and a couple of members of the ensemble, this year’s cast of Evangeline is totally new. Whereas, Josée Boudreau played understudy in 2013, she carried the role of Evangeline Bellefontaine marvelously with her powerful soprano and forceful character. Jay Davis, whom I first saw in Bittergirl, played an admirable Gabriel Lajeunesse opposite Boudreau’s Evangeline. His wonderful voice, at times gritty but always very masculine and powerful, dominated the ensemble. I’m hoping it was a matter of balancing the wireless microphones, but he literally drowned out Boudreau in at least one of their duets. At times, it felt as though the songs were not really composed for him. All the Broadway-style belting is overpowering, and I would have appreciated a great deal more sensitivity, texture, control, and subtlety in the interpretation of some of the songs besides full-volume delivery. Réjean Cournoyer as the invented character, Captain Hampson played the perfect villain as he did the first time around, just as Laurie Murdoch as Colonel Winslow revealed the conscience behind the whole idea of the Expulsion of Acadiens, reprising the role that humanized a reprehensible historical event.
Director Terry Pratt’s vision of Hamlet is a very palpable hit. The show portrayed choices I had never seen but were exceedingly fun to watch. Pratt, who wrote this version and directed, cut the script extensively but people unfamiliar with the text would not have noticed. The nearly three-hour show held the attention of two very young girls on opening night. The girls seemed very saddened when at the end, spoiler alert, nearly everyone dies.
In a hopeless romantic tale like something inspired by a foreign film, Mark Fraser (who made his directorial debut at The Victoria Playhouse in last seasons The Best Brothers) sculpted a play written by prominent playwright Douglas Bowie where the lines of reality are blurred & spontaneity is rampant. There are flashbacks, fantasies, & something for the part of us that always wanted to explore what might’ve been.
Star & producer Jody Racicot (who teaches acting at Holland College School of Performing Arts & appeared in Confederations Centre’s Cinderella, in another role where checking your ego at the door was a prerequisite, as evil stepmother Putrid Von Farfrompoopin) & the lovely Johanna Nutter (who is no stranger to Victoria Playhouse, dedicating this performance to her friend & mentor Erskine Smith) are a splendid pair. Their characters are played at high and low points in life as well as young and old in multiple locations on a charming symmetrical set design (excellent work by scenic design: W. Scott MacConnell, production stage manager: Kevin MacLeod, rehearsal stage manager: Emilie Cassini, Light & Sound tech: David Nicholson, & scenic carpenter/stage techs: Jonathan Smith & Ron Quesnel).
Racicot plays Toby, who is a loveable film critic on a mission. Toby is also a self-proclaimed failure, representing the loss of all hope, putting himself in a pretty difficult situation as a last ditch effort to have some meaning in his empty life. Early on, he sometimes looks like a bombing stand-up comedian on that stage as he laments about his chances with the apple of his eye, Marisa (played of course by Nutter). At one point I actually hoped for his sake that some sort of act of divine intervention might time warp us back to the beginning of the show & give this poor fool a clean slate.
Believe it or not though, his character’s downward spiral into Bummerville actually works in his favor, fostering a very high level of genuine pity from the audience giving him the undisputed title of underdog. It’s a safe bet that a technique like this would be discouraged for television as the audience would be tempted to change the channel, whereas in live theatre, 5-10 minutes of drab is quite forgivable when you look at the bigger picture of forming an emotional connection like this.
In Set2 the inside jokes build & the unexpected twists continue. It’s a relationship that is built on enjoying each others personality instead of the usually superficial reasons that draw couples together. There are certainly some lessons to be learned from this show, most notably about self-esteem. A self-deprecating joke here & there will definitely put people at ease, no argument there. That said, too many displays of belittlement on one’s own behalf turn into self-loathing & just because you’re the one getting made fun of, although we have a hard time adimitiing it, it’s still bullying. Not to get too personal, but I often wonder if in my own mind this is happening at too high of a rate.
Another example of imaginative theatre in PEI, Rope’s End isn’t afraid to deal with awkward stuff & I think that couples who enjoy a good laugh & crave the unexpected will love this romantic comedy!
I was able to catch a performance of Blindness: A Dark Comedy, a play by Mariève MacGregor, one of several performances in this year’s Charlottetown Fringe Festival. For those who are not familiar with the Fringe Festival, it is a frenzied weekend of one-act plays and one-person shows that have audiences running all over the downtown area with barely 20 minutes in between performances to get to the next venue. Or you can get a schedule ahead of the weekend and plan your 4 days so that you can leisurely stroll to the ones you want to see beginning at 5 p.m. and straggling home around 11 or midnight. Each show is staged at different times on each day of the festival, so it’s quite possible to catch all of them within the earlier hours of the evening. More risqué topics, however, are restricted to much later hours. All performances are free entrance with donations recommended.
Back to the play. Blindness is a biographical piece based on the playwright’s actual experience of blindness from an unusual condition whereby the body produces too much blood, causing it to leak into the retina, which prevents a person from seeing. There was humour, no doubt, as the dialogue made light of a variety of situations encountered by blind people and how others can be oblivious to it or not know how to deal with it. More than just humour, though, the play was extremely enlightening in that it explained a great deal about the condition and the situation from first-hand experience. Something like Helen Keller’s autobiographical stories, but with fun. I have to admit that, while I did find the humour funny and the monologues informative, it was an awkward kind of funny–which was the general feeling I also got from the audience, who seemed unsure whether to laugh or not at times. It’s pretty much like when we make jokes about disabilities, race, and cultures. Political correctness and politeness keeps us from making jokes that might be seen as offensive especially if we aren’t the ones with the condition/race/culture. It’s okay for the Irish to make fun of the Irish, but if anyone else does it, it becomes offensive. In that vein, it might have been perfectly all right for the playwright to make light of her condition, but I thought the audience was not too sure if it was all right for them to laugh at her situation. I guess that’s where the dark comedy part comes in.
I have to say that one of the most brilliant choices was in the original music. To set everything to a jazzy beat provided by Justin Amador and Charlotte Large with those couple of folksy gospel song-like choruses by Tony Reddin at the beginning and end really set the tone for the comedy. If the pacing and acting had followed that jazz beat throughout, it would have been a great performance. In fact, I would have liked more music interspersed with the dialogue and a more active part of the performance, particularly since some bars were finished before they could even be appreciated. I’m just imagining involving the musicians in the dialogue by making them parts or voices of the psyche.