Common Boots Theatre/Soulpepper
Written by Martha Ross. Directed by Jennifer Brewin and Katrina Darychuk. Set by Shannon Lea Doyle. Lighting by Glenn Davidson. Costumes by Alexandra Lord. At Christie Pits Park. Runs until December 30.
What happened to this show? I reviewed it for CIUT Friday Morning, 89.5 FM, when it played at Evergreen Brick Works in 2011 and loved the whimsy and humour of it. Now it’s moved to Christie Pits Park and is painfully, self-indulgently unfunny. Did Martha Ross revise the show to “improve it” since then? So much of the script seems unfamiliar from what I remember.
The Story is the retelling of the events leading up to the birth of Christ. In Ross’s version, the Three Wise Men have lost the star that will take them to the scene of the birth. At times we are told we are in Syria. At other times the Romans are overpowering the people and forcing them to engage in a census.
Throughout the show, the audience is guided around the park, stopping at ten sites to be told parts of the story. We hear the Romans announce the census in the distance. It sounds rather ominous. Joseph (Marcel Stewart) and Mary (Shakura Dickson) seem to be caught in the middle of this and want to flee. They have an argument. The staging here by Jennifer Brewin and Katrina Darychuk is confusing in that Mary is over to one side in the distance and Joseph is over to the other side, also a distance away, and both are yelling. The audience is in the middle of the two of them, trying to figure out where to look and on whom to focus. This awkward positioning is a mystery.
At one point, an inarticulate but excited angel named Gabriel (Dan Mousseau) arrives to tell Mary she will give birth to the son of God, but he is not too clear on the details. Gabriel makes his dramatic entrance charging across the top of a hill, his gold cape flapping behind him, his large halo-like hat glowing intermittently. He yells down to Mary, who is at the bottom of the hill, that he has news for her and then jumps into a sled and slides down to her. He breathlessly tells her the news, but then for some inexplicable reason decides to make his entrance again as his glowing hat does not glow consistently. This time he gets to the top of the hill and then races down on foot.
It was frigid the night I saw the production, and when you are freezing and can’t feel your fingers or toes, these kinds of time-wasting shenanigans wear thin. Ross’ script is full of these strained attempts at humour. It’s also full of moments that don’t tell the story, but just aimlessly fill the time. For example, two Wise Men banter before one (Alex Bulmer) breaks out in jazz. It is nice to see Bulmer acting again in our city—she has been living in London, England—but what is the point?
The Story should be ruthlessly edited, and I suggest the task be done in the frigid cold to put a point of urgency on the exercise.
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