A lot of the Big Ticket shows in town these days are shows that we’ve had the chance to see before. This is not a bad thing. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a brand new play that blows your mind, but it’s also good to know that if a play is good enough, it can have a life that extends long after its initial run.
Probably the highest-profile of these remounts is John Mighton’s Half Life, currently playing at Canstage‘s Bluma Appel Theatre. Half Life made a huge splash at Tarragon a couple of years ago, and so this remount comes with a considerable amount of buzz (not to mention a Dora and a Governor-General’s Award). The production is helmed by the very busy Daniel Brooks, who gives the show his signature focused, minimalist directorial panache – Brooks only lights the parts of the stage you need to see, everything else remains in complete darkness. There’s also a fantastic cast, including Randy Hughson and Diego Matamoros. The story is about Clara and Patrick, two old lovers who reconnect after decades at a nursing home. There’s some lovely stuff in here about aging and memory and love in unexpected places. But there is something absent in Mighton’s script. There’s excellent dialogue and interesting ideas, but there’s also a real lack of connection to the characters or much in the way of plot development. Mighton would do better to either really care about the story he’s telling, or to veer off into a more experimental kind of theatre where he can be free to focus on his ideas.
Meanwhile over at Tarragon, Rosa Laborde’s Léo is making a comeback. The show, which chronicles the lives of three young people growing up in socialist Chile, played there last year to considerable acclaim. The titual hero is a young poet who resists political involvement in a time and place where such a thing is barely possible. And its the performances of Sergio Di Zio, Cara Pifko and Salvatore Antonio as the eponymous Léo that really make the show.
Pifko is a delight as Isolda, the childhood friend of Léo and Di Zio’s Rodrigo, and the woman who comes between them. And Sergio Di Zio gives an intensely likeable performance as Rodrigo, a passionately political man who struggles with the fact that he is engaged to Isolda, but has more fun having sex with his best friend Léo (who also happens to be having sex with Isolda). Needless to say, everything falls apart in an I Am Cuba sort of way. The real problem with Léo is Léo himself. Not Antonio’s performance, which is exceptional, but the character himself, who is selfish, ignorant and pretty much completely unlikeable from start to finish without going through any changes or development. It’s hard not wonder how whether a play called Roderigo or Isolda would have been more interesting. Even so, this is a smart piece that deserves attention.
The most artistically successful in this string of successful remounts is Monster, the second of the three Da Da Kamera shows receiving remounts this season at Buddies that began in the fall with Here Lies Henry and concludes this March with House and the dissolution of Da Da Kamera. Also directed by Daniel Brooks (I told you he was busy!), Monster is another one of Daniel MacIvor’s legendary one-man-shows. If you have to see just one of these shows, this is definitely the one to catch. It’s easy to see why the Daniels keep collaborating – there is a rare theatrical perfection achieved as a result of combining Brooks’ stark yet haunting style (never starker than in Monster, where MacIvor stay standing in one spot for practically the entire show) with MacIvor’s meandering but visceral brand of storytelling.
Monster is about a monster named Adam. He’s just one of the many characters MacIvor jumps in and out of. Each seems completely unrelated at first, but gradually, tiny threads begin to pull them all together until the audience finally as the play ends comprehends the tapestry their disparate narratives has woven. And it’s a spooky one. Not many plays really give you goosebumps, but this one does. The show evokes a horror movie aesthetic, and like the best horror movies, the truly scary stuff is left to your imagination. But let’s just say you’ll never hear “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” quite the same way again.