Yet again, Undercurrents 2016 serves up a wonderful selection of performances. From the comedic, to the interactive, to the incredibly thought provoking, this year’s festival has provided a little something for everyone, and with enough variety to actually sit through and have an entire evening of it.
According to festival director Patrick Gauthier, one thing you can expect is a focus on “women’s voices and stories,” with more than 7 in 10 of this year’s writers and directors being women. And truly, they have created some of the most impressive performances in this festival so far. In the second week, Circle Circle’s A Man Walks Into A Bar and La Fille Du Laitier’s Macbeth Muet deserve a special mention.
A Man Walks Into A Bar
Written by and starring Rachel Blair, Circle Circle’s A Man Walks Into a Bar is a an important story about modern gender discourse and how it has been acted out in the modern technological world.
The performance starts with Rachel Blair. She has a joke she wants to share with us. She’s not very good at telling jokes, so she’s glad that Blue Bigwood-Mallin is around to offer his support and encouragement.
“So a man walks into a bar-” The first interruption, as Bigwood-Mallin begins suggesting ways in which Blair might make her story better, more accessible and inclusive to the rest of the audience. Hesitant, unsure if his suggestions are really how she wants to express her story, she capitulates, thinking it will allow things to move forward.
Some wonderful performances from both actors as their relationship evolves, as the actors they play get lost in the narrative they are both trying to construct. Blair being patient and accommodating, Bigwood-Mallin offering “positive” criticisms for her benefit, but ultimately creating a space that neither Blair nor the audience feels safe in.
While Bigwood-Mallin plays the proverbial Nice Guy throughout, there are moments when the threat of violence, whether physical, sexual, or both, suddenly becomes palpable. And while you might be able to sympathize with him to a degree, there’s a moment when everyone stops laughing, when you suddenly realize that he may not be the nice guy he claims to be, that we don’t know him beyond his word, and that he may be capable of anything.
For some the epiphany occurs sooner rather than later, but you eventually come to see the man as an increasingly oppressive figure who has been trying to hijack Blair’s narrative from the very start, in order to “help” her and “make her story more accessible.” As good as his intent may have been, what he really ends up doing is turning Blair’s joke into something that is no laughing matter.
This performance has the potential to create polarizing reactions and may even require a trigger-warning concerning masculine violence, considering it contains some of the most believably acted aggression that I’ve seen on stage. This deservedly ranks quite high in my to-watch rating, both for how well the actors embrace their roles and for the ideas being brought forth.
Macbeth Muet, a production of Montreal-based theatre company La Fille Du Laitier, is a Spartan-run sprint through Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Without using a single word from the original script, the silent actors, Jeremy Francoeur and Clara Prevost, present a visceral re-imagining of Macbeth’s story through their emotive physicality and inventive prop acting.
While it might help with understanding some of the obscure portions of the wordless narrative, Macbeth Muet can still be thoroughly enjoyed without knowing the original script. Truthfully, any dialogue would have certainly detracted from the performance. This performance instead relies on well-timed (and oh-so-fitting) musical cues blended with a frenetic style of acting in order to generate a genuinely unique depiction of how the Macbeths all too eagerly rushed into the arms of madness and murder.
Neither would this performance be the same without its bevy of inventive found-object props, which become just as crucial to the performance as the actors themselves. From a trio of witchy, prophetic cootie catchers, to armies of styrofoam cups, and paper towel subtitle reels: these generic household items become imbued with a surprising amount of character and meaning in the ways that they are used.
You may also want to be aware that there is a splash zone in this performance. With the amount of fake blood and broken eggs involved in this performance—and trust me when I say it’s more than you’re probably expecting—you’ll soon realize that part of the fun is seeing just how messy both the stage and the actors will get by the time this tragedy has run its course.
If you are able, I highly recommend stopping in at Arts Court for this thoroughly entertaining PWYC production.