My second visit to the Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest was very different from my last one, entranced by Musik für das Ende, the world and work of Claude Vivier last fall. While it’s a different sort of magic, the excitement was if anything more intense this time, swept up in Kristen Thomson’s The Wedding Party.
While her name is on the play, on Crow’s website one reads that it’s “based on the characters created with Trish Lindström, Tony Nappo, Moya O’Connell, Tom Rooney, and Bahia Watson.” Lindström, O’Connell & Rooney are back, joined by Jason Cadieux, Virgilia Griffith and Jane Spidell. Thomson’s very humble note in the program shares credit for the creation:
Four years ago, I invited some of my favourite actors –Trish Lindström,, Tony Nappo, Moya O’Connell, Tom Rooney, Bahia Watson—to improvise with me around a fascination with weddings, witnessing, belief and the echoes of these experiences in performance.
Six actors create more than a dozen characters. Or at least I think so. Of the six, four play at least part of the time as the opposite gender and/or a different race and age. At one point we hear the old lady onstage sagely intone that she hates to see men dress up as women: and of course there’s a hilarious gasp of recognition when we remember that she’s actually being played by a guy. Forgive me, that’s the one joke I’ll give away, and indeed I bet you will still laugh at the delivery & the irony if you come see it. There are several such wise moments, spoken with such dignity that it doesn’t play as comedy. When they’re falling down, insulting one another, groping and misbehaving? yes, then we’re into territory that’s recognizably farcical. But much of the time it’s much gentler, less a written / contrived thing than something that unfolds organically out of the situations and the character dynamics.
And yet there’s such authenticity that it often feels like reality TV. I have to be careful as a regular CNN watcher, someone cringing at the lies we see every day, that the epithet I just used – reality TV–be understood as a compliment and not as a profound insult. But we’re in a world stripped of the usual theatrical ostentation, watching people muddle through, doing innocuous little things, trying to get through the next 30 seconds without screwing up or falling on your face: and failing miserably at even that tiny little objective. Everyone is human, all too human, and that’s why it’s so funny. I felt at times as though I was watching a living breathing inkblot test, in the sense that every ten seconds or so someone in the audience was screaming with wild uncontrollable laughter, while ¾ of the audience sat and watched, gathering it together for their own explosion of laughter. Why laugh here and not there? I think the show is a mirror to our dysfunctions, a reminder of what we’ve seen in our own families. From time to time the laughter gets so overpowering that every little twitch sets us off. But then for awhile the characters become as still as the bystanders at the side of the road staring at a big pileup on the highway. At times it’s an ongoing slow-motion train-wreck, very much like life itself. At times it becomes surreal and dream-like, but for the most part we’re in the presence of real people, speaking in average tones rather than big voices.
And yet I was reminded of French farce, thinking of Feydeau or Anouilh, with the magnificent intricacy of what we watched. For me Thomson’s world is a much more real slice of life than what we’d find from either of those authors, which is to say, not seeming so artificial, not so contrived. Is that because she observes something true to a Torontonian / Canadian sensibility? Or because what she wrote has been brought to life so vividly by her cast as well as director Chris Abraham? I don’t know, I have no idea how they could create such a mirror that I looked into, that made me laugh so much and so often.
On the first page of the program there’s a whiff of city-building in Chris Abraham’s welcome to the second year in this marvelous new facility. Here we are, at a theatre truly in the east end, the beginning of something. I suppose that’s inaccurate, Crow’s Theatre have been around for over 30 years (or so the internet tells me), and so this is an evolution rather than a beginning. Abraham seems to be all about partnerships. The Vivier was a marriage of drama & music, in partnership with Soundstreams. The Wedding Party is brought back, I now realize, not for its second incarnation but third, when we include its premiere via Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, that I meant to attend but missed, just over a year ago. Co-productions & partnerships are not just the way of the future, but indeed have long been the modus operandi for many companies in the Toronto area.
But excuse me if I sound so serious & philosophical after laughing my ass off tonight. The delights of The Wedding Party await you at the Guloien Theatre at the Streetcar Crowsnest until January 20th.