Welcome to the theatre; you fool, you’ll love it so5 September 2008
I rarely see as much theatre as I’d like. In a distant past chapter of my life I lived in New York City, which coincided with one of my most poverty-stricken periods. Having the least spending money in the town with the most theatre. That’s irony, baby, and an experience shared by many.
Conversely, when I’ve had steady jobs and some money to spend, my gigs have generally been evening performances, the upshot of which was limited opportunity to avail myself of the local theatre scene. If there even was one.
Now that I’m in driving distance of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals and living in a city with several top-notch theatres, I am back on an austerity budget. It agonizes me to miss Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra starring Christopher Plummer (whom I saw onstage years ago, absolutely brilliant as Iago in Othello). And as a big (but discriminating) fan of musicals, I am missing Jersey Boys, Spamalot, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee among others, simply because of ticket prices. I haven’t seen a single show at two years of the Toronto Fringe, and only one at Summerworks: Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, done with imagination and a kick-ass chamber orchestra.
Eventually, of course, I break down and buy tickets. Maybe the theatrical tectonic forces have been building, because Katharine and I recently saw four plays in a week. First, a double bill of two comedies at Soulpepper: The Real Inspector Hound by my idol Tom Stoppard and Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer. The former has been a favourite of mine since I first read it in college some 35 years ago. Soulpepper, one of Toronto’s most respected theatre companies, did a nice job with this witty, silly, stylized piece. Black Comedy has a reputation for being hilarious, and needs to be seen rather than read to experience the physical comedy. This production was not bad, if a bit short of hilarity.
Soulpepper really dropped the ball, however, with Jean Anouilh’s Ring Round the Moon. Miscast, paced far too slowly, and missing the bubble-lightness required, it was a disappointment. A few strong performances provided moments of real enjoyment, but they were too sparse to save the evening.
Tarragon Theatre, another great Toronto company, remounted the inventive, theatrical and visceral Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad. Highly regarded since seeing it a year ago, the treat was doubled when, as a sometime volunteer usher at Tarragon, I was given 2 free tickets to the remount. And free cookies, too. That’s the kind of evening I can afford.
The biographies of Soulpepper’s and Tarragon’s actors are intimidating for someone eager to break into Toronto theatre. How can Florida credits, for example, convince such illustrious theatres to cast me when compared with actors whose meatier experience has helped them infiltrate these essentially closed-shop companies? Only the weak performances by a couple of actors of my type/age provided some encouragement.
Well, until Toronto and Ontario want me on their stages, I’ll return to British Columbia to appear on theirs. I’ve been cast in a western by Ian Weir, The Man Who Shot Chance Delaney, at Western Canada Theatre (Kamloops, BC) February-March and Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at Chemainus Theatre Festival (Chemainus, BC) April-May 2009. So there.
Five months between now and then. Who wants me?