The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss

Anthony Ulc in The Late Henry Moss. Set design by Adam Belanger. Costumes by Janelle Joy Hince. Lighting by Steve Vargo. Photo by Curt Sachs.

 

Unit 102 Actors Co. takes us to an adobe shack in the middle of nowhere New Mexico in their intimate production of Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss, directed by Scott Walker and running at their new home at The Assembly Theatre.

When Ray (David Lafontaine) arrives at Henry’s place after getting a phone call from his estranged older brother Earl (Mark Paci), their father (Anthony Ulc) is already dead, his corpse covered with a blanket on a cot. And when Ray presses Earl to repeat the details of the circumstances of Henry’s death, he gets the sneaking suspicion that something’s not right.

Earl got a call from Henry’s neighbour Esteban (Matthew Gouveia), who was worried about Henry’s welfare. We learn that Henry had a girlfriend named Conchalla (Jennifer McEwan), and a young Texan taxi driver (Michael Eisner) fills in the blanks about driving Henry on a strange fishing trip shortly before he died. Shifting back and forth between past and present as we see the story play out, we witness a tangled web of lies, secrets and selected memory unravel.

This is classic Shepard, featuring all the dark comedy, family dysfunction, alcoholism, secrets and haunting, conflicting memories—the stark realism tinted with moments of magic and poetry. The underlying sense of cruelty and violence starts at a slow boil, the heat getting turned up throughout with explosive results as inner demons are revealed and unleashed. In the end, the truth is both troubling, poignant and complicated.

Excellent work from the cast on this intense, intimate journey. Paci gives a compelling combination of a lost life lived in a state of exhausted estrangement and a longing to reconnect; there are things, moments, that Earl can’t bear to look at—but he finds himself unable to turn away from his dying father. Lafontaine’s tightly wound, mercurial Ray is the perfect foil for the more taciturn Earl. Menacing in his suspicion, and with a tendency towards cruelty and violence, Ray recalls bits of family history that his older brother has blocked—but memory is a trickster even for him.

Like Earl, Ulc’s Henry is a picture of haunted, hungover isolation; trying to forget, erasing his past with a bottle and a woman, Henry fears death as much as he courts it. McEwan is sensuous, mysterious and shaman-like as Henry’s girlfriend Conchalla; adding an otherworldly taste of magic, ancient tradition and heated romance—including some sexy choreography, with the dance illustrating their relationship—it’s like she’s acting as Henry’s guide to the next world.

Eisner’s taxi driver and Gouveia’s Esteban add some great—and much needed—comic relief. Eisner is adorably friendly and entertainingly cocky as Taxi; and, as Esteban, Gouveia is the sweet, guileless Good Samaritan with a lusty streak.

The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss.

With shouts to the design team Adam Belanger (set), Janelle Joy Hince (costumes) and Steve Vargo (lighting) for transforming the venue into this blue and orange world outside of the rest of the world.

The Late Henry Moss continues at The Assembly Theatre until January 20; get advance tickets online.

 

Advertisements

A powerful, moving adaptation – The Deliverance of Juliet & Her Romeo

juliet & her romeoI was very lucky to be able to get in to see the closing night performance of Leroy Street Theatre’s/Avant Bard Productions’ adaptation of Romeo and JulietThe Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo – at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Adapted by Harrison Thomas, Ashleigh Kasaboski and Anne van Leeuwen, and directed by Thomas, this version of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers is set in a modern-day religious right dystopia (think Handmaid’s Tale meets Bountiful, B.C.). The Capulets are members of the dominant cult, and Lord Capulet (Scott Walker) is their prophet/leader; Lady Capulet is a trio of sister wives that includes the traditional Nurse role (Michelle Cloutier, Kelly Van der Burg and Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt – with D’Alessandro Hatt playing the Nurse wife, called “Aunt” by Juliet); and Juliet (Kasaboski) is the dutiful, but lively, daughter and prized possession. Romeo (van Leeuwen) is a woman, with only her mother Lady Montague (Emily Nixon) and cousin Benvolio (Cam Sedgwick) to call family – and all are reviled heretics in the eyes of the Capulet cult. Living outside these opposing families are the socially liberal missionary Friar Lawrence (Christopher Mott) and his daughter Mercutio (Lauren Horejda), who is BFFs with Benvolio and Romeo.

In this Romeo and Juliet, the hate between the two families is mostly one-sided, with the more powerful Capulets lording over all – and not above acts of self-righteous violence to keep control and purge their society of undesirables. And, here, the young love between Juliet and her Romeo, cut short by hatred and intolerance, is all the more tragic – you’d think that, by the late 20th centruy, people would know better.

Played out on a starkly furnished, almost Spartan, set of chain link fences and wooden boxes – and backed by a live soundtrack of guitar, banjo and a selection of hymns, including a particularly lovely choral performance of “Down to the River to Pray” – this Verona is physically divided, the Capulet commune more like a prison than a community.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo has an excellent cast. Stand-outs include Kasaboski, who brings a youthful passion and energy – and desperate bravery – to Juliet; and van Leeuwen’s Romeo is a lovely combination of sensitive, romantic and melancholy (this production also borrows text from Hamlet), whose courage tends more toward the brash and impetuous compared to her more measured lover. Walker’s performance as Capulet is riveting – his Capulet’s domineering, at times violent, behaviour and ‘my way or the highway’ attitude is all the more disturbing, as it’s all done in the name of God. D’Alessandro Hatt’s Lady Capulet 3/Nurse is compelling and compassionate – surprised to find that the Romeo to whom she delivers Juliet’s message is a woman, but not allowing prejudice to sway her opinion of Romeo’s good character. It is towards this wife that Capulet directs his violence when she attempts to intervene when Juliet refuses to marry Paris – and her eventual support of the match seems to come more from a place of protecting Juliet’s welfare than betrayal. Mott’s Friar Lawrence, who also acts as the Chorus, does an excellent job of juggling the conflicting political and emotional situations he finds himself in; striving to keep the peace and protect his family, his resolve pushed to the breaking point when his daughter is killed and the Capulets plan a mass suicide after Juliet’s ‘death’ (drawn from real-life 1978 Jonestown Massacre). And Horejda is remarkable as Mercutio (also plays the Apothecary) – cocky, irreverent and exceedingly clever, with a tortured soul beneath the wise-cracking antics, and so in love with Romeo.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo is a powerful, moving adaptation – and the big deal here is not that the young lovers are women, but that the world in which they live is ruled by the hate and narrow-mindedness of an extreme religious right group that ultimately implodes upon itself. Bad news is, the run is over. Good news is, you can keep an eye out for Leroy Street Theatre and Avant Bard Productions – and this fine cast – to see where they go next.

 

Shifting power & perception in a struggle to communicate – Oleanna

Got out to see Unit 102 Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna last night; the play is running in rotation with Neil Labute’s In a Dark, Dark House at Unit 102’s space at 376 Dufferin St., Toronto (just south of Queen St. W., on the west side of Dufferin).

Directed by David LaFontaine, and starring Linzee Barclay and Scott Walker, Oleanna presents the battle of two wills: Carol and John. The student/professor relationship plays out with increasingly higher stakes, shifting power dynamics, and an intensely frustrating struggle to communicate and be understood. The dialogue is classic Mamet – at times rapid fire, overlapping, fumbling for words, at others a debate – the language both profane and academic, everyday and elevated. Communication and perception – and how what is communicated verbally or physically is received, regardless of intent or original meaning – twist and pull, with the characters launching into a volcanic he said/she said. And, ultimately, actions really do speak louder than words.

Really strong work from both Barclay and Walker in negotiating the evolution of the characters and the mood of this relationship. And kudos for their handling of the dialogue, especially challenging in the first scene, particularly after being away from performance for a few days (they’ve been performing Wed. and Fri. nights, with a couple of Sun. matinées). Barclay lays out Carol’s growth and increasing confidence, from lecture hall wallflower to outspoken student advocate, while Walker navigates John’s shift from an assertive, irreverent prof to a man desperate to save his job and his life. Both in a riveting dance of shifting power and perception.

You have one more chance to see this production of Oleanna: Friday, August 29 at 8 p.m. Check out Unit 102 Theatre’s website for more info about the company, this show and their other productions: http://www.unit102theatre.com/index.html

Coming up: Catching Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Two Gents at Withrow Park on Friday night (they run until Sept 2).