All right, Ottawa. There’s still one week left for you to catch any or all of the six shows running at the Great Canadian Theatre Company as part of their Undercurrents: Theatre Below The Mainstream Festival. If you’re not sure what you want to see yet, here’s what you can expect from this line-up.
Should you see them?
The Public Servant
The Public Servant follows three women at various stages in their career within the Canadian government’s public service sector. We’re first introduced to wide-eyed and youthfully exuberant Madge who loves everything and is eager to jump into her chosen career. We then meet the two other main women of the piece who are in their middle and late career stages and show the appropriate signs of having been in the system for many years.
While largely a comedy that will bring you some definite laughs — particularly if you’re one of the people who will be nodding your head and recognizing all too well the situations you’re watching — The Public Servant also carries an undercurrent (see what I did there?) of tragedy at the state of the system. Like finding out a project your team’s been working on for months is suddenly completely irrelevant, or having to ignore information you feel the public needs to know but that your superiors want hidden.
This is a play for anybody who’s worked within a bureaucratic system. Or even dealt with one. You’ll easily recognize the vignettes of scenes portraying the mundanity and occasional absurdity of the women at work.
It really is an interesting reminder that it’s good to question the purpose of bureaucracy once in a while.
Ladies of the Lake
In Skeleton Key Theatre’s Ladies of the Lake, a young woman is drawn to a lakeside and is saved from drowning by an odd little man. She then becomes the pawn in a power struggle between the man and a woman who has been cursed to live in the lake, unknowingly being connected to both.
Ladies of the Lake is part text and part movement. Like the play, I’m split. On the one hand, the story was fairly interesting – and sparked a bit of debate between me and my theatre date for the evening – the script was good, and the performances (Kate Smith, John Doucet, Dilys Ayafor) were very strong, making it all very enjoyable. On the other hand, the movement just didn’t move me. This is an area where your mileage may vary quite a bit depending how you feel about movement theatre but it’s not one of those facets of theatre that I’m immediately drawn to so it takes a lot to impress me and pull me in.
Still, as I said, your mileage will vary, and the other parts of the show more than made up for my sort-of disinterest in the movement. Where I really fell out was the ending which felt like it came a bit out of nowhere–or I missed something, which was equally possible.
Hip Hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos
This one delighted audiences at Ottawa Fringe 2012 and is deservedly back to give everybody another chance to enjoy it.
Abbreviated to HHSLMV, the show delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Shakespeare’s most popular plays adapted to replace the lyrics of popular hip hop songs. e.g., Othello told in the style on Jay Z’s 99 Problems.
This is the kind of show you’ll enjoy most if you know the plays in question because you’ll get to enjoy their retelling. If you know the music and not the plays you’ll probably enjoy it still but I’d argue that less so. Of course, if you know both the plays and the music, then you’re in the sweet spot. Maximum enjoyment achieved.
What really helps the strength of the entertainment of each number are the performances of Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown. Not only can both sing well enough to carry the numbers, they’re strong performers and are greatly entertaining to watch.
The only thing that should turn you away from giving this a try is if you have a complete aversion to hip hop music or Shakespeare or strobe lights.
Little Orange Man
What to say about Little Orange Man? I saw it twice in two days, the second of which was amidst a “snowstorm”. I spoke to the creators of the show for #TalkingTheatre. I stayed for the talkback. And I go on about it to anybody who will listen. Or, um, read.
I don’t personally recommend shows often. Mostly, I just aim to tell you what you can expect from them based on what I take away. But on very rare occasions a show is just so special that all I want to tell you (all of you) is to do everything you can to see this while you can, because if you love or are interested in theatre at all, you will regret missing it.
As to what you can expect, here’s a large chunk of my review from seeing the show at Ottawa Fringe 2012 – there’s been some slight changes to the show this time out (and it’s in a better venue) but everything below still applies.
Little Orange Man (otherwise known as one of my top theatre experiences ever), performed by Ingrid Hansen and created with director Kathleen Greenfield, is Kitt’s story – or rather Kitt’s experiment. See, Kitt has recruited the “audience” through an ad on Craigslist as volunteers for her dream experiment. What she needs – now that she’s been banned from talking to the Kinders – is really good dreamers to help her get to the bottom of a dream that’s giving her trouble.
Little Orange Man is a storytelling experience. Not the kind of storytelling where a performer tells you a real or imagined story, but in the grander storytelling tradition where the audience is made part of the journey and not even the character, ostensibly, knows what’s going to happen. Here, Kitt doesn’t simply tell/show the audience the story, but she fully engages them as part of her world. It’s a theatrical experience in the truest and purest sense.
Ingrid Hansen gives the most thoroughly engrossing and captivating performance in her portrayal of the young Kitt that I’ve ever seen. I was 100% completely present in Hansen’s reality and it says a lot that deep into the show, the simple rhetorical: “You know what?” prompts a response from a young boy in the audience who can’t help but ask “What?” Even later, when Kitt asks for a volunteer to wear her dream helmet, I’ve never seen hands raise so quickly and excitedly.
There’s also violent and bloody fairytales told in more charming a way than you’d think possible and the sacrifice of a lot produce in what ultimately is a very touching and dramatic story about a girl and her beloved grandfather.
Remember, your dreams are more real than you’d think.
(PS, I mentioned that at Fringe I was Rachel’s surrogate. This time out, the person I was there with had that honour. Any other Rachel’s out there? We’re starting a club.)
At the core of Skin’s mix of text, movement, and music is the Selkie legend of seals who come to land and shed their seal skin in favour of being human women for a time. In particular, one such Selkie, who is forced to marry a man that has taken her seal skin – and ability to return home – hostage. It’s about feeling alien from what you know or what you miss and about being uncomfortable in your own skin.
“Sometimes I feel like a man in a wig”, says the one man (who is indeed wearing a wig) amidst six actresses. “In a play about women,” he adds once the first laughs have stopped.
It’s perhaps the most memorable line of Undercurrents but it’s completely unconnected to anything else in the play and delivered purely for the laugh it brings.
Which is how I feel about Skin as a whole. It felt like it wanted to be a straight enough narrative, returning again and again to the same Selkie legend, but many of the scenes felt more disconnected than connected. It was more like thematically connected vignettes.
More important than that, though, is that Skin is marvelously beautiful. The movement is beautiful. The music is beautiful. The interplay between everything is beautiful. The performances are beautiful. And the performers, who represent all different body types, are beautiful. Not just physically (which is true) but in how they carry themselves and how they present themselves on stage.
It’s simply a beautiful and highly captivating piece of work.
Little Iliad is a short play delivered as a Skype conversation between two friends. One is very soon to be sent off to Afghanistan, the other is anti-war and doesn’t want his friend to go. Rooted in a conversation about a play concerning a tiny piece of the Trojan war, Little Iliad is an interesting and cool-headed debate about why we war.
Only one half of the duo is physically up on stage, with the other being a prerecorded video, projected onto a small clay figure. It’s an interesting choice and it does work to accomplish a few things. First, it helps sell the distance between the two, both physically and ideologically. Second, it limits the scope of the conflict in an interesting way. Were the two together on stage, it would be easy to step up the tension with alpha male posturing, raising their voices and shouting at one another, or even physically getting into each other’s faces. The separation between the two ensures that the focus is completely on the words. Further drawing you into the setting, you listen to the show on headphones.
The script and interplay between the two men was strong. It was a level-headed subtle debate that made strong points on both sides and never tried to give one side an upper hand. No pro or anti-war propagandizing here. The chemistry between the actors along with the slightly unpolished feeling and sort of awkward dialogue (which helps convey two people who haven’t seen each other in a long time and are censoring as much as they’re saying) helps keep you engaged.
So my recommendation to you, dear Ottawa, is this. Buy yourself a three show pass. At $40 dollars, that’s just around what you’d pay for most other shows around town. See Little Orange Man for sure, then pick two others that you think are interesting, or even that you’re skeptical about. It never hurts to try something new. You might be surprised.
But my words spent, it’s your turn to type. These are just my opinions and I’d really like to hear yours. Did I totally miss the boat on some of these? What did you see? What did you like? Tell me in the comments below.
For more info on Undercurrents, including all the other press, check out our preview article.