Valentines through the ages & the private face of grief in Shotgun Juliet’s intimate, tender Jewel

Pip Dwyer in Jewel. Photo by Jackie Smulan.

 

Shotgun Juliet opened its production of Joan MacLeod’s Jewel, directed by Matthew Eger, to a packed house at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night.

Jewel was inspired by the sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine’s Day storm on the Atlantic on February 15, 1982, a national tragedy that saw 84 lives lost. The two-year Canadian Royal Commission that followed found numerous design and safety flaws, as well as ineffective inspection and regulation, and subsequently made a number of recommendations to the oil and gas industry, as well as the federal government. Lawsuits were settled out of court in a $20-million package, duly noted in the program notes as “peanuts for oil companies.”

Jewel puts a deeply personal face on this tragedy. Set in the Peace River Valley on Valentine’s Day 1985, three years after the accident, we’re in Marjorie’s (Pip Dwyer) mobile home. Dressed in a flannel nighty, long johns, boots and a heavy knit jacket, and holding a bucket of milk, we find her standing in her kitchen, starring a million miles away. Remembering.

She recounts Valentine’s Days over the years, a personal history of romance that is both touching and hilariously funny. Especially endearing is the unfolding romance with Harry, who proposed to her – a city girl from Calgary – in a tent in Northern Alberta. And then Valentine’s Day 1982, when Harry was one of the men working on the Ocean Ranger and the RCMP arrived on her doorstep. Listening to country music and local messages on the radio, and occasionally hollering at the dog to stay outside, she shares homemade beer and speaks to Harry throughout – and the love comes through. The heartache. The loss. The disbelief. The anger. The trying to move on.

Dwyer gives a luminous, compelling performance in this emotional, haunting solo show. Radiating that classic, independent Prairie girl can-do attitude, her Marjorie is cheeky, funny and straight-talking – and also deeply vulnerable. Fiercely and romantically committed to her marriage, Marjorie’s still wearing her wedding ring and speaking with the ghost of her love three years after he’s gone. The reason for this loss is infuriating – and we share her disbelief and anger, the intimate staging putting us in that mobile home kitchen with her. And that private expression of love, loss and grief is both beautiful and heartbreaking to watch.

With shouts to John Dwyer, who supplied his voice-over talents as the affable local Radio Host. And to the design team, including Jackie Smulan, Blair Purdy and the company for the homey, detailed kitchen set, and the equally warming music and evocative atmospheric sound.

Valentines through the ages and the private face of grief in Shotgun Juliet’s intimate, tender Jewel.

Jewel continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre till February 14, with evening performances at 8pm and a matinee on February 11 at 2pm; advance tickets available online. It’s an intimate space and a short run, so advance booking is strongly recommended.

 

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Otherworldly, eerily beautiful & intensely visceral – Shotgun Juliet’s Stealth

StealthCourtyard3You enter the space via the alley off of Sullivan. Dark. Quiet. No signage. And enter through a worn wooden gate into the backyard of 8-11 Gallery. A spooky young woman sitting on a cut bit of tree trunk beckons you to her – she is the gatekeeper hostess and box office, her dead-pan voice offering cryptic responses to queries about the show. She is, however, forthcoming about the location of the bar and washroom indoors: through the back door and up the short flight of stairs to the right. We may sit anywhere we like in the yard, but must not go downstairs.

Sitting on one of the slightly damp wooden slat benches in the early evening darkness, you notice the smell of wet bark, leaves, soil. The overcast sky, visible beyond the nearly bare branches, reveals one bright star – a planet, perhaps. You’re glad it’s not raining now and especially grateful for the unseasonably mild late October night. The backyard fills with others. And soon it begins.

Our hostess alerts us that they’re coming. We can hear them before we see them. Four women dressed in black enter the yard through the gate, moving in music-less – but not soundless – rhythmic time. A ritual. A dance. A communion of community. As they exit into the gallery and down the stairs, suddenly, all is not well with one of the women. Our hostess beckons us to follow her downstairs, where we witness the rest of the action wordlessly play out, the smell of damp woods outdoors exchanged for the smell of damp stone indoors.

This is Shotgun Juliet’s production of Stealth, a physical theatre/dance piece directed/conceived by Matthew Eger; and choreographed/performed by Patricia Allison, Miranda Forbes, Darwin Lyon and Amanda Pye. The production company aptly describes the piece as “four women who have vowed to be silent and hidden together – until one decides she wants out,” framing the story in such a way that piques interest without giving too much away. Much like our mysterious hostess. Out of respect for the production and future audiences, I will also not divulge much here.

I can tell you that these women are closely bound together – physically and emotionally – and the reaction when one of the women leaves is immediate and powerful. The use of light, dark and shadow is extremely effective, as is the haunting soundtrack that plays indoors, industrial music infused with the faint static sounds of radio communication – a white noise of sorts, but also strikingly alien in tone. This production is big on atmosphere: mystery, anticipation, and the experience of heightened senses and imagination.

I can also tell you that the cast does a marvelous job of using their bodies, gestures and expressions to tell this story. Specific relationships are highlighted and challenged, and loyalties are questioned. Vocalizations are all the more intense as they erupt from a largely silent scenario and used sparingly.

And, then, it’s over. As you exit back along the alley – back to the real world – the wet crunch of the pavement beneath your feet seems more distinct.

Stealth is an otherworldly, eerily beautiful and intensely visceral physical theatre/dance hybrid.

Stealth continues its run at 8-11 Gallery (233 Spadina Ave., a bit north of Queen/Spadina – enter through the alley off of Sullivan) until November 1. Dress warmly. Don’t be afraid of the dark. The box office mistress will keep you safe.