Beautiful, raw, vulnerable & erotic – Nightwood & Seventh Stage’s Stockholm

Out in the lobby of the Tarragon Theatre before seeing Stockholm last night, I was chatting with a couple who were going to see The Real World? in the main space – and when I mentioned that I was going to see Stockholm, they wondered if the title referred to the capital of Sweden or the syndrome. In this case, it’s both.

The Nightwood Theatre/Seventh Stage Theatre co-production of Bryony Lavery’s play Stockholm, directed by Seventh Stage A.D. Kelly Straughan (formerly the Assoc. A.D. at Nightwood), is currently running in the Tarragon Extra Space.

Lindsay C. Walker’s set gives us an initial glimpse at the life of Todd and Kali. The ultra modern kitchen is pristine white and perfectly symmetrical except for the narrow white stairway to nowhere stage left (in the action of the play, leading to the attic). The pre-show music, designed by Verne Good with some original composition as well, is a mix of industrial and pre-fab jazz – the kind of music that you’d hear in the background at the latest hot spot resto.

When the house lights go down and the stage lights come up (design by Kimberly Purtell), both light and sound are disorienting, a focused glare and cacophony of voices, tinny and alien, as Todd emerges. He’s lost his wife Kali after they left the movie theatre. Throughout the play, Todd and Kali speak of themselves – and their relationship – in the third person, narrating their lives with a cool cinematic, and somewhat smug, detachment. Their life together is perfect: they are taking in the entire Ingmar Bergman canon, they have booked a trip to Stockholm and today is Todd’s birthday, and the celebration will be culminating in a quiet, romantic dinner at home that Todd will cook himself, complete with two bottles of expensive champagne, which Kali has purchased as a surprise.

The first sign that there are problems in the Garden of Eden is the discovery of a letter for Todd from his mother – Kali does not hide her disdain for the woman and thus begins her slow boil. Both harbour extreme feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt, emerging in brief monologue-like moments outside the present action: Todd (Jonathon Young, who Sanctuary fans will recognize as Nikola Tesla) feeling pressure to make things perfect and happy, and Kali (Melissa-Jane Shaw) madly in love but grappling with a deep jealousy of Todd’s exes  – “retro jealousy” Todd calls it – their pain expressed physically, as well as in the text.

What is remarkable about the staging of this production is the use of choreographed movement (courtesy of choreographer Susie Burpee), wordlessly presenting the exact tone and emotion of the moment – from playfully putting groceries away in perfect synchronous union to the re-enactment of their first meeting to sex, where the movement becomes primal, raw and erotic. And fight director Casey Hudecki (who Lost Girl fans will know as Anna Silk’s sword double) choreographed the more violent moments, as the temporary facade of the couple’s perfect world crumbles in the face of jealousy and distrust.

The sleek beauty of Todd and Kali’s modern reno of an old home mirrors the toxicity that lies beneath the exterior of their relationship. Once a mess of a place, they renovated it themselves with the help of Todd’s architect friend and transformed it into their dream home, a high point of pride and satisfaction. Kali retreats up the stairs to their finished attic space with Todd’s cell in an effort to keep him from calling his parents – and her jealousy is pricked to life when she snoops through his messages. And later in the play, the unfinished cellar – a crawl space, really – is evoked as they crouch in front of the kitchen island, along with horrific things both hidden in the past and glimpsed in the future.

Shaw and Young are magnificent as Kali and Todd, executing the intricate movement, dance and fight choreography with apparent ease – and breathing a complex life of love, humour, raw passion, co-dependency and vulnerability into these characters.

As the house lights come back up, the audience files out to “#1 Crush” by Garbage (which some will recognize from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) – a song that perfectly matches the beautiful and terrible life dance we’ve just witnessed between these two characters.

Stockholm runs in the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until June 3, so you best get on it before it’s gone.

For more info on Seventh Stage Theatre, check out their website: www.seventhstageproductions.com/theatre

For details and reservations info, please visit the Nightwood Theatre website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/stockholm

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Ethereal intensity – Was Spring @ Tarragon Theatre

Daniel MacIvor’s Was Spring (which he also directed), playing now at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, is set outside of time and space – although both time and space are referenced in the script and in Verne Good’s sound design. The soundtrack of popular songs takes us back in time and forward again in the pre-show music, finishing with Some Enchanted Evening just as Kitty enters and the action of the play begins, and later brings the sounds of spring time. The breeze. The birds. The waves on the lake. Kimberly Purtell’s extremely minimalist set (she also did the lighting design) is a diamond-shaped playing space that has audience on two sides contains only three chairs, all top lit before the play begins, creating perfectly shaped shadows on the floor beneath. Kitty calls for light when she enters and the two mirrored walls behind her are revealed.

It was that timelessness and spacelessness – as well as the characters’ occasional breaking of the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience – that reminded me of another of MacIvor’s plays (and a personal favourite of mine) You Are Here. And while I don’t usually include spoiler alerts in my theatre posts, I feel compelled to do so now. So be warned: SPOILERS ahead.

Kitty (Clare Coulter) has been institutionalized because a neighbour in her building raised an alarm that she was a hoarder who used a bucket to pee in. She is visited by Kath (Caroline Gillis) and Kit (Jessica Moss). At first, the women appear to be three generations of the same family, sharing memories, people, places – and occasionally sniping at each other.

As the play progresses, though (it’s a one-act, 75 minutes long), clues dropped along the way – starting with each character’s introduction, her name being a variation of Kathleen – reveal these women not as relatives but as Kathleen in three times. Maid. Mother. Crone.  And a choice that Kit makes has devastating repercussions on her life. That part I’ll leave for you to discover.

The script is both cuttingly intense and extremely funny, haunting and charming – and the casting is perfect. Coulter as the elder Kathleen, brings us a Kitty who is cantankerous, wry and sharp-witted, and extremely annoyed with the world; Gillis’s Kath is world-weary and cynical in middle age, having lost her youthful dreams in settling for a kind of stability and comfort, while Moss’s Kit is wide-eyed and naive, her heart full of romantic fancies – and whose innocent view of the world ultimately leads to a moment that will change the direction of her life.

The audience was packed – on an Easter Sunday matinée – and the cast got a hugely deserved standing ovation.

Was Spring runs in the Tarragon Extra Space until May 6. Please visit the Tarragon website for details and reservations: http://www.tarragontheatre.com/season/1112/was-spring/