West is East and East is West, and Sometimes in Alberta
There’s not much happening in the Canadian theatre scene that doesn’t happen in Alberta.
by Anne Nothof
Borders are blurring, Canadian plays are migrating, and in Edmonton Alberta, new arrivals are on centre stage. Although fewer plays are being developed in-house, the repertoire range is wider, the offerings more diverse. There’s not much happening in the Canadian theatre scene that doesn’t happen in Alberta.
Edmonton’s Northern Light Theatre opened its 2011-12 season with Heroine, a tale of two women pirates by Karen Bassett, who is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Heroine is an action-filled feminist work set in the early 1700s, which features two women imprisoned in a Jamaica cell and condemned to be hanged. It is based on the lives of Irish-American pirate, Ann Bonny, and British cavalry officer, Mary Read, who disguised herself as a man and fell in love with her commanding officer before her capture by pirates and decision to defect. Barry fights for independence and excitement, and Read for glory and honour, and they are ready to defend their very different values with their swords. Both also courageously resist the limitations imposed on them by a repressive society. Playwright Bassett acted Mary Read in the premiere production at BusStop Theatre 2010, a role which requires strong fighting skills, and a great deal of stamina. The Northern Light Theatre production (September 16-24, 2011), directed by Trevor Schmidt, featured Lora Brovold and Natascha Girgis, both of whom demonstrated extraordinary prowess in swordfighting and acting.
In October 2011, Theatre Network presented Michel & Ti-Jean, an imagined meeting between Michel Tremblay and Jack Kerouac by Quebec playwright and academic, George Rideout. Directed by Bradley Moss, and starring Vincent Hoss-Demarais as Tremblay and Brian Dooley as Kerouac, the play is an extended discussion of the process of writing. The young Tremblay seeks out his idol in a Florida bar, after the success of Les Belles-Soeurs, to ask his opinion of the play, but despite his apparent timidity, he is already confident in his abilities, and discovers that the older man has been drinking his own into oblivion. Two strong performances – by Dooley, a resident Edmontonian, and Hoss-Demarais, a Quebecois, keep the play cooking on a slow simmer for more than two hours, until the final emotional boiling over. Like the characters they play, both share Montreal roots, with French as a first language.
In Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects premieres a new play by Carol Fréchette during its playRites Festival in February 2012 – Thinking of Yu, in a translation by John Murrell. A woman discovers the possibilities of freedom in her own life when she tries to understand why three Chinese students threw paint on a portrait of Mao in Tienanmen Square. Quebec plays well in Alberta, where the audience comprises Canadians from across the country.