The “wangled teb” of perception in the darkly funny, thoughtful, poignant The Play About the Baby

Judith Cockman, Will King, Nora Smith & Scott McCulloch in The Play About the Baby

If you have no wounds, how can you know you’re alive?

Seven Siblings Theatre opened their production of Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby, directed by company co-founder Erika Downie, upstairs at The Rhino to a sold out house last night.

The Boy (Will King) and the Girl (Nora Smith) are young, big time in love and just had a baby. Their blissful, sexy times reverie is interrupted by a mysterious Man (Scott McCulloch) and Woman (Judith Cockman), who appear unannounced in their living room. Trickster shenanigans and cryptic pronouncements turn serious when, pressed to reveal what they want, the Man tells the young couple that he and the Woman are there to take the baby.

Solid and genuinely connected work from the cast—no mean feat in a story that travels into Albee bizarro land. King and Smith have great chemistry as the adorably wide-eyed, carefree innocents. For a couple of new parents, the Boy and the Girl are remarkably energetic and horny. King is hilariously randy as the Boy—who seems to have a constant boner, either physically or on the brain—the performance balanced by a child-like vulnerability and need for comfort. Smith’s Girl is sweet and good-natured; extremely patient with the Boy, the Girl manages to divide her time between her two babies, as mother and wife. A good sport but no pushover, the Girl has no trouble setting boundaries with her overly enthusiastic husband.

McCulloch and Cockman are deliciously mischievous as the Man and Woman, the trench coat clad agents of shenanigans—or are they? Cynical and callous, McCulloch’s Man has with a wry-witted, cocky bravado about him; the Man has the heart of a philosopher and likes getting to the point in his own way, even if he must be cruel to be kind. Cockman’s Woman is the perfect ‘good cop’ foil to McCulloch’s Man; a delightful, nice woman who enjoys tripping off into day-dreamy, fanciful recollections, the Woman is a fond memory raconteur—and decidedly gentler on their mission than her partner.

Albee’s bizarre, darkly funny and thought-provoking play goes to the core of identity and perception. As we define ourselves in terms of our roles—gender, age, job, relationship status, parenthood, etc.—memory can be a tricky thing. And ‘reality’ is often a function of need. The nature of the Boy and Girl’s meet cute and subsequent courtship is the stuff of modern-day fairy tale; and are set in interesting contrast and parallel to the Woman’s romantic exploits. And in the second act, varying versions of reality make the Boy and the Girl, and even the audience, question what’s really going on here.

The “wangled teb” of perception and that which makes us stronger in the darkly funny, thoughtful, poignant The Play About the Baby.

The Play About the Baby continues up on the second floor at The Rhino till May 21; for advance tickets, scroll down on the show page to place an order. Advance booking strongly recommended; it’s an intimate space (and you can order a drink downstairs and bring it up with you)—and this is an exciting company to watch out for.

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Picasso & Einstein walk into a bar; art, science, women & philosophy ensue in hilarious, surreal Picasso at the Lapin Agile

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Dylan Evans (Picasso) & Will King (Einstein) in Picasso at the Lapin Agile – photo by Erika Downie

Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar.

This is the set-up for Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Seven Siblings Theatre’s current production, directed by Seven Siblings co-founder Erika Downie, which opened at Kensington Market bar venue Round last night.

It was my first time at Round, a vintage-inspired cabaret-styled bar space and a perfect immersive venue for this production. The Lapin Agile barkeep Freddie (Dylan Mawson) set the scene as the audience entered and settled, opening the bar on the playing space and jovially interacting with the audience, at least one of whom mistook him for the venue bartender (you can purchase beverages before the show starts).

Set in a bar in 1904, we find the two titans of innovation in their mid-20s and both on the brink of greatness. Einstein (company co-founder and previous production director Will King) is slogging away on his book on the theory of relativity, and Picasso (Dylan Evans) is in his blue period, struggling for instantaneous alignment between his ideas and the act of drawing them. At the top of the play, barkeep Freddie (Mawson), his sweetheart and co-worker Germaine (company co-founder Madryn McCabe) and regular Gaston (Jamie Johnson) are already pondering life, art, women and love when Einstein bursts in; and it’s not long after Picasso’s arrival that the scientist and the artist get into a heated argument that turns into a duel of science versus art.

Add to that mix an assortment of opinionated patrons and friends – a lover, friend and admirer (all played by Erin Burley), an art collector (Erik Helle), an inventor (Andrew Gaunce) and a surprise visitor (Maxwell LeBeuf) – and you have some hilarious, thought-provoking discussion and debate, as well as some predictions about the burgeoning 20th century. There is a restless, anxious and hopeful atmosphere in the bar as these characters adjust to the new century. Sparks of brilliance and absurdity abound – and it’s all big, goofy surreal fun.

Equally big fun is the sharp and engaging ensemble. Portraying the two young men on the edge of great things, King and Evans bring passion, drive and intelligence. King’s Einstein is bubbling with energy and ideas, shifting between stillness and silence and bursts of movement and thought; and Evans’ Picasso is smooth, sexy and charming – an infuriating player, but a talented and sensitive artist you can’t help but feel drawn to. And the upshot of their argument is that both men discover that they have more common ground than they thought – and that art and science are no so different after all.

Mawson’s Freddie is a great combination of affable and irreverent, and clueless with an occasional brilliant observation. Beneath the beautiful barmaid exterior, McCabe’s Germaine is insightful, astute and self-aware; her passions are her own to direct – and she has the most accurate predictions about the new century. As Gaston, Johnson brings a touch of wistful nostalgia to an otherwise grumpy older man. Saying aloud what Germaine already knows, Burley’s Suzanne (one of Picasso’s forgotten lovers) is a bright young woman who ultimately falls for Picasso with her mind, in spite of physical attraction and in spite of herself. Helle’s Sagot is flamboyant and shrewd, with an eye for important art and a mind for marketing – which affords engagement in his own artistry as a photographer. Gaunce’s self-important inventor Schmendiman is hilariously buffoonish, with a Daliesque quality to his verbal outbursts; and LeBeuf’s Visitor is a smooth, cool crooner with an interesting take on the world and its response to greatness.

The play crackles with ideas and conversation, with moments of breaking the fourth wall – even acknowledging that it’s a play – it’s a big ideas party and everyone’s invited.

Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar, and art, science, women and philosophy ensue in Seven Siblings Theatre’s wacky, surreal and immersive production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile continues at Round until Feb 28; please note the 7:30 p.m. curtain time (it’s not cool when the stage manager has to hold the house for audience showing up when the show’s supposed to be starting). You can get advance tix online – strongly recommended.

You can keep up with Seven Siblings on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In the meantime, check out the show’s trailer:

Love & violence in a world gone to hell in Mercury Fur

MFUR-10Seven Siblings Theatre Company’s opened its Canadian premiere of Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, directed by Will King and assistant director Madryn McCabe (two of the three co-founders of Seven Siblings, along with Erika Downie), at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Set in a post-apocalyptic city in a time very close to present day – too close for comfort – Mercury Fur reveals a world turned savage and lawless, where everyday people are forced go to extreme measures to survive roving gangs, riots and looting. Brothers Elliot (Cameron Laurie) and Darren (Andrew Markowiak) work for Spinx (Mishka Thébaud), dealing in hallucinogenic – and sometimes dangerous – drugs in the form of butterflies, sometimes purchased with stolen antiquities. For some, the virtual fantasies that play out in the mind under the influence of butterflies aren’t enough – and so Spinx and his crew also arrange “parties” for clients who play top dollar to have their deepest, darkest fantasies realized, in real time with real people.

The story that unfolds is brutal and beautiful, cruel and tender – violence and love weave in and out between the characters, some struggling to recall more decent, peaceful times while others long to forget. The language is both lyrical and extremely violent; words are both weapons and tools of seduction. Violence and sex intermingle into fetishism, and anecdotes of horrific memories are told with emotional detachment or adventure story excitement. The sharing of good memories offers a brief emotional oasis from past and present terrors.

The directing team has a very strong cast for this often intensely dark theatrical journey. As older brother Elliot, the brains and head of his fractured, broken family, Laurie does a lovely job with the complex range of emotions – by turns harsh and tender, sharply focused and hopelessly lost. Andrew Markowiak’s Darren is both comic and heartbreaking; a simple, child-like youth, broken both physically and psychologically by events and butterfly consumption. Like Darren, the brothers’ new friend and co-worker Naz is drug-addled but sweet, longing for connection and a new family to replace the one he’s lost to violence – a nicely well-rounded performance from Adrian Beattie. Eric Rich is both fiercely streetwise and warmly kind-hearted as Lola. Thébaud is compelling as the gang leader, cold and cruel, but protective of his pack – especially the Duchess. Annemieke Wade’s Duchess is beautifully fragile and damaged, struggling to hold onto some sense of gentility and grace in the wild carelessness of this horrific new world. As the Party Piece, Kenneth Collins is delicately vulnerable in the boy’s stoned and sick state. And D. Gingerich does a really nice job as the Party Guest, a repugnant and callous sociopath with friends in high places, caught between his desire for blood and the fear of a rat on a sinking ship.

Stephen King’s set, a boarded up, abandoned flat in an apartment block – with its deep red outer walls, stone centre wall with a fireplace mantle, deep brown leather furniture, and lack of electricity and hot water – shows us what urban life has come to, but also acts as a reminder of a more civilized world. A world many of us take for granted. Parker Nowlan (lighting and sound) sets the scene with an eerie, industrial soundscape and gives us a gradual sundown throughout the play, the darkening of the sky running parallel with the increasingly dark action onstage.

Seven Siblings’ production of Mercury Fur is a deeply disturbing, moving and darkly funny look at violence and love in a world gone to hell.

You can also follow Seven Siblings Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye out for this dynamic young company. Mercury Fur continues its run at Unit 102 Theatre until September 6 – click here for advance tix.