Reviews by Anthony Chase
Quick takes on current and recent productions
REMNANTS at Torn Space
I caught up with “Remnants,” the most recent immersive installation at Torn Space Theater, at the last possible moment. In fact, I got over there on the very last day.
The piece, reimagined after a run in 2021 which I did not see, portends to explore the “original mythology of Torn Space.” In part, we got a retrospective in video and photographs of past Torn Space installations. We also got an exploration of the ideas of origination, reproduction, and fashion (a word that implies both change and stasis, innovation and conformity), through sound, light, film, virtual reality, sculpture, and of course, live performance.
Small groups were ushered into a sequence of rooms, beginning with a visually arresting virtual reality sequence, requiring audience members to wear headsets and to go on a visual tour in isolation. Next, we were taken to a room to sit in places positioned under individual lights which turned on and off strategically, while a sound score/narration played. Finally, we were taken to the space furthest back at the theater, where we were seated on benches and sequences were performed, first on one side of us, and then on the other. The first of these involving a performance by Kalub Thompson, an actor whose physique and physicality are frequently deployed at Torn Space to startling effect. Here, Thompson performed across the length, around the periphery, and up and down the height of the pit that is now part of the renovated space, while propelling from a rope. He finally emerged from that depth and onto the other side of the benches where a kind of print shop / fashion runway is set up.
In this space, two performers prepare ink with brayers on a print table, and a fashion show of aloof performers who enter and exit wearing a kind of white smock garment ensues. The action culminates with Thompson lying back on a stenciled ink pattern, thereby transferring the pattern onto his clothes.
There is certainly humor in giving the name “Remnants” to a retrospective exploration of a theater company called “Torn Space,” but the title is apt. We are confronted by a rapid succession of visual and auditory moments while a disembodied voice recites an endless string of profundities. Because these thoughts, observations, and aphorisms are not connected to any narrative, our minds are left to go where they may.
The effect, for me, was to propel me into my own memories, particularly when images reminded me of productions I had seen, or when sounds evoked memories that were personal to me. Remnants, or leftover fragments of the past, evoke memories of the whole. On the other hand, like a word that becomes meaningless after repetition, after the thoughts and aphorisms begin to pile up, profundity can begin to seem like platitudeness. The line between originality and banality blurs.
While every member of an audience always has an individual experience, informed by personal history, I wonder how many other members of the “Remnants” audience had vivid memories of the sound of a brayer rolling across ink. I was startled when “Remnants” stirred that vibrant auditory memory from my grade school days. This focused my thoughts about the history we live, the moments we remember, and the moments that recur.
Remnants involved a partnership with Mirabo Press, a printmaking studio that offers limited edition printmaking to individuals and galleries, with fashion designer Kylie Priscilla, and with designer Tim Stegner to create customized the fashion garments. Virtual reality and film were done by FLATSITTER, light installations by Eclectric Oil and Light, sound design by Justin Rowland and Frank Napolski, installation design by Kristina Siegel and costume design by Jessica Wegrzyn.
BERSERKER at Alleyway Theatre
Meanwhile, over at Alleyway, “Berserker,” a new play by Bruce Walsh, is getting a handsome outing, directed by Robyn Lee Horn, with scenic and costume design by Collin Ranney, light by Emma Schimminger, and sound by Nicholas Quinn.
In this play, a man named Pete Greer confronts a bear in the woods. While fleeing in terror, he meanders into an enclosed compound where he meets a woman through the security system, who turns out to share his obsession with the Led Zeppelin rock band. Determined to meet this woman, he pretends to apply for a job as the teacher of the 12-year-old boy who is the founder of the company she works for.
After this, a simple, “man-hastily-abandons-woman-for-other-woman-he-barely-knows” plot boldly bolts down multiple paths. Playwright Walsh explores a litany of life’s eternal questions. The 12-year-old is wiser than the adults around him, and knows that he is not the genius his ambitious mothers insists he is, but just an ordinary kid who is being exploited. With issues of her own, the woman who loves Led Zeppelin is not really available to bear-man Pete. The more bear-man Pete examines his soul, the less he turns out to know himself at all.
The entire cast is excellent. Patrick Cameron plays Pete Greer, the man who thinks his life has been changed by the sight of a bear. Haleigh Curr is engaging and amusing as 12-year-old Mason. Sara Kow-Falcone is a steady and commanding presence as SooJin, the woman who loves Led Zeppelin. Kelly Copps, fascinatingly emerges as the heart and soul of play, in the role of Vicky, the long-term girlfriend who gets dumped by Pete. Naturally, upstanding Pete never mentions SooJin when he tells Vicky about his outer-bear experience, leaving her to conclude, correctly, that he might just be shallow, and not worth the effort.
Like many plays I have seen recently, and in a manner that made “Berserker” remind me of the performance piece, “Remnants” over at Torn Space, this play is sprawling in its ambition to be thought-provoking. Still, handled by this able cast, it is very engaging.
Not wanting to spoil the surprises of the play, I will just mention that one if its motifs is a recurring lesson in how to scare off a bear. You put your arms up, make yourself as big as you can, and bellow for the bear to go away. In a very telling exchange, Pete tells Vicky that he tried this technique during his second encounter with the bear. The animal responded as desired. Pete’s reaction after that sums up the man for this world weary and all too wise woman.
THE LOVE LIST at Desiderio's Dinner Theatre
With “The Love List,” Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre continues its love affair with Canada’s most prolific playwright, Norm Foster. In this play, Bill is having yet another birthday, setting him closely in range of middle age, and his best bud, Leon, decides to buy him the services of a matchmaker. As part of the process, they must provide a list of the ten qualities Bill most desires in a woman.
Before Leon has a chance to submit the form to the matchmaker, Justine appears at Bill’s door, and she seems to embody every quality on the list. Even more peculiar, she seems to know everything about Bill, and insists that they’ve been together for some time. He’s never seen her before in his life, but decides to play along.
Jeremy Kreuzer pays Bill, a statistician whose wife left him because he was too boring. Elliot Fox plays Leon, a philandering novelist. Suzie Hibbard plays Justine.
The hilarity escalates when Leon changes an item of the “love list,” and Justine changes. We are now in a comedic twilight zone.
It’s a funny conceit, and one worthy of A.R. Gurney or J.B. Priestley. Jay Desiderio has directed the production in the requisite “keep the laughs coming” style, and the able cast is expert at landing those laughs.
Accessibility is the essence of dinner theater, and Norm Foster certainly fits the bill. At the same time, “The Love List” does allow us some humorous contemplation of what motivates our romantic decisions.