Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in playful, disturbing and disorienting Half a League

Banner image for Half a LeagueHalf a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…
– “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of Half a League, by Scott Garland and directed by Alexander Offord, had its gala opening at Fraser Studios last night. And what a trip it was.

There’s an eerie atmosphere when you walk into the theatre. In the midst of the detritus of the junkyard set – featuring three distinct piles of waste and discarded household items – a dirty faded pale yellow stuffed dog dangles limply from a hangman’s noose. Over the speakers, you can hear a tinny, static-filled robotic voice reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” playing on a loop.

When the house lights go down, a figure emerges from the house entrance, shuffling with great effort as he drags a full hockey bag to the stage. Arming himself with an electric bass, he then takes up his place behind the microphone stage right. It is here that we’re able to get a good look at him. In period costume that includes tails, he is in mime-style white face with circular rosy red cheeks. Eventually, we will learn that he is called Sir Rupert (Victor Pokinko).

Then, bam! Three boys emerge from their hiding places among the three piles of junk (their “posts,” as we soon here them described): Peter (Mamito Kukwikila), Jim (Stephanie Carpanini) and Sam (Katie Corbridge, also the producer/public outreach gal for Rarely Pure Theatre). The boys appear to be playing soldiers. The junkyard is their territory and they are maintaining and defending it. There is a lost boys sense about these kids – and even though their roles within the unit are well-defined, there is the sense that they’re not sure who they are. And when a stranger named Billy (Nicholas Porteous) appears unexpectedly in their midst, the “game” changes dramatically. All while Sir Rupert moves throughout the scene, silently witnessing the proceedings. Skulking unseen, but not always in the background, he only opens his mouth when Pete tells the story of meeting him – his words cryptic, delivered with a malevolent tone. And we learn that it is Sir Rupert’s words that have inspired this war game.

Pokinko does a marvelous job as the ever-present Sir Rupert, going from a seemingly doll-like and innocuous observer to stalker/puppet master – like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a death metal sensibility. Kukwikila has a commanding presence as Pete, the brains of the operation – the senior officer and strategist, the builder of the game as he was inspired to do by Sir Rupert’s words, drawn in and mesmerized – and fully committed to creating and maintaining this world. Carpanini’s Jim is the brawn; all ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ – and Pete and Sam are right to keep him away from firearms. Stout-hearted and loyal, Jim doesn’t question why – he just does. And Corbridge’s Sam, the youngest of the group, is the heart and soul; trying to be tough and pull his weight, but struggling with the uncertainty of his youth and more at home with a stuffed animal than a weapon. All three female actors do an outstanding job of capturing boy culture, the unbridled bravado only reined in by the rules and etiquette of the game, layered over that afraid, lost boy quality. And Porteous’s interloper Billy is a strange one, and his arrival is a particular curiosity (and I’m not going to spoil that here); he does an excellent job of switching on to the game, without losing his sense of mystery. Is he just playing along or really into it? Who are these guys?

Along with the question of who these boys are, the play brings up the issues of kids’ exposure to violence – real or imaginary – and how the glorification of war so easily seeps into a child’s consciousness. See what you think. I think that’s about all I’m going to say. You’ll just have to see this for yourselves. Okay, I will say: long after you leave the theatre, the chanting will haunt you: Half a league, half a league, half a league…

With shouts to the design team for their creative work on this strange, troubling world: Jake Merritt (set), Gaby Grice (costume), props (Lauren Dobbie and Margaret Evraire) and Pokinko (music).

Twilight Zone meets Lord of the Flies in the playful, disturbing and disorienting world of Half a League.

Get out to Fraser Studios to see this. In the meantime, get a sneak peek of the show via interviews with playwright Scott Garland, director Alexander Offord and producer/actor Katie Corbridge.

Half a League runs at Fraser Studios until May 31; you can purchase advance tix online here. You can also keep up with Rarely Pure Theatre on Twitter.

50 things I’ve learned

cathy - btw book alt photo
Me at my fourth or fifth birthday.

I was inspired by Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito’s list of 65 things he’s learned to create one of my own milestone lists. In no particular order:

  1.  It’s better to give. – Zoie Palmer reminded me of this in a tweet she posted today
  2.  People who talk to you about others will also talk to others about you. – can’t recall the origin of this one
  3. Whenever you have the chance, go for a pee and drink water. – Brenda Sharpe reminded me of this during our office party yesterday
  4. Life can’t always be champagne and latkes. – Elisabeth G.
  5. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. – originally thought this was Dr. Seuss, but it’s actually Bernard Baruch
  6. Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss that which insults your soul. – Walt Whitman
  7. When changing a baby boy’s diaper, get the front flap of the fresh diaper in place ASAP.
  8. You can learn a lot about someone – and yourself – by how they/you untangle a mess of Christmas tree lights.
  9. Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. – British army wisdom (shared by Stephanie Bitten)
  10. If you don’t act crazy, you’ll go crazy. – Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (played by Alan Alda) from the TV show M*A*S*H
  11.  Silence speaks volumes.
  12. Don’t forget to breathe.
  13. In any conversation, listening is extremely important – even more so than speaking.
  14. It’s not a good idea to proofread your own writing.
  15. Always take note of the source of any praise, criticism or information that comes your way; not all sources are reliable, truthful or without agenda.
  16. People are the strangest animals I’ve ever seen.
  17. Trying to organize a group of lively, smart, creative people is like herding cats.
  18. You are what you say you are.
  19. You are not your job.
  20. If someone’s bullying or mistreating you, chances are they were/are bullied/mistreated themselves.
  21. Art is vital to a good quality of life.
  22. Smiling makes you feel better.
  23. Laughing makes you feel even better than smiling.
  24. When shaving your legs, it’s best to not go above the knee.
  25. People, even those you love, will disappoint you. They will also surprise you, in a good way.
  26. Faint heart never won fair maiden.– Elisabeth G., while perhaps not the originator of this quote, reminds me of this always
  27. Better to try and fail than regret not trying.
  28. ‘ Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. – Alfred Lord Tennyson
  29. Be as good a friend to yourself as your good friends are to you.
  30. Lovers may come and go, but good friends – your chosen family – are for keeps.
  31. Don’t be afraid to tell your loved ones that you’re afraid.
  32. Besides death and taxes, the only thing you can count on is that things will change.
  33. This too shall pass. This goes for the good as well as the bad.
  34.  Sometimes, something that initially appears to be a negative can turn out to be a positive.
  35. The body is sexy, but the brain is sexier.
  36. Having a pet to come home to is a truly wonderful thing, especially if you live alone.
  37.  Dark chocolate really does have healing powers.
  38.  So does red wine.
  39. You can never get too many hugs. Same goes for giving hugs.
  40. Having a positive attitude in the day-to-day goes a long way toward staying positive when times get rough.
  41. You and your doctor are partners in the maintenance of your health and well-being.
  42. Finding joy in simple, everyday moments is a really good thing.
  43. When experiencing a conflict with someone, it can be helpful to examine what you have in common.
  44. Be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best – but don’t dwell on it too much.
  45. Don’t pass up the chance to say “I love you.”
  46. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.
  47. When it comes to romance, it’s better to be alone than in a bad relationship.
  48. Make sure to have music in your life.
  49. Be kind to the world and all its creatures, including you.
  50. Be the best version of yourself that you can be.