Space Opera Zero

When I write about the shows I see I’m sometimes overwhelmed by envy, wishing it were me who’s up there singing or playing. We’re never more alive than when we’re dying onstage.

And so I’ll often toss off these spontaneous ejaculations late at night, seeking to prolong the magic of a show that is alas: no more. It’s over. Done. Finito.

The blog is a futile oxymoron, impossibly reaching back in time, from the contented afterglow seeking to touch the radiance of the show itself.

I know I can’t possibly connect, and sometimes the awareness of futility is so heavy that I’ll overload the beginning of the review with factoids, telling you where and when and what and who: even as I struggle with the real issue, the time travel and the attempt to walk my soul into those bodies from the recent past, to reincarnate myself somehow in their show.

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Original art by Melanie McNeill

Eldritch Theatre might be the most purely artistic thing I know of in Toronto. The adventures of Eric Woolfe & company in the realms of puppetry, magic, music & theatre would never be mistaken for high art (yet it probably helps to be high when you see his shows), and I invariably come out of his shows feeling light-hearted.

Talk about contrast. The previous night I watched a one-woman show about real life. Tonight was pure theatricality, silliness, puppets, toys, magic and mayhem, an escape from the stresses of reality.

Space Opera Zero is many things. It’s a combination of live action, a bit of film, some singing, some dancing, puppets and models.  Curiously, we’re getting glimpses of The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton, that very powerful story about love & betrayal.  Setting it somewhere off planet doesn’t hurt Middleton nor the audience.  We are mixing high art tropes with all sorts of silly pop culture references. So long as you check your pretentiousness at the door, you’ll be fine.

Lisa Norton and  Mairi Babb star, opposite Eric Woolfe in a myriad incarnations, directed by Dylan Trowbridge, designed by Melanie McNeill, lights by Michael Brunet, and sounds by Christopher Stanton.  It’s a small team creating a whole universe.

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Princess Jenora, Hjalmar Pomeranki + Emily Trueheart (Mairi Babb, Eric Woolfe + Lisa Norton), photo: Adrianna Prosser

The audience at last night’s opening performance seemed to be a mix of regulars and newcomers: that is, people ready to laugh (familiarity with hilarity?) and those swept up in the screaming & laughing that eventually fills the tight little space of the theatre. We are in a realm of irony and strangeness, not realism. If you resist you may think it’s merely silly. “Resistance” as another space opera once said “is futile”.

One thing I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. As I sat in the front portion of the theatre on Queen St East, awaiting the beginning of Eldritch Theatre’s premiere performance of Space Opera Zero, I knew I would never encounter my colleagues. I might run into Justin Trudeau –a theatre teacher after all—or Donald Trump –a reality TV star—before I’d ever encounter an opera reviewer. That’s right you’ve guessed it. Space Opera Zero is not actually an opera (hm or is it?). You know it, and perhaps too John Terauds of the Toronto Star, John Gilks of Opera Ramblings, Jenna Simeonov of Schmopera, Arthur Kaptainis of the National Post.., also know it. That’s why I knew I’d never run into them there on Queen St E. While there is music, singing, histrionics, lots of hand-wringing about who screws whom, even a coitus song: yet Space Opera Zero isn’t really an opera (although it’s every bit as silly, every bit as nonsensical, and maybe a whole lot more believable).

If I want to see it again it’s because of that envy factor. This is one of those shows where you can see how much fun it is to perform. Ah to be young. Ah to be wearing a costume with tentacles discussing sensuality and planetary annihilation: in the same sentence. Only opera –space opera or the regular kind of opera—manages to combine these elements together, the big questions of life.  Space Opera Zero is shorter & more fun than anything Wagner wrote, although at times I was thinking of Götterdämmerung, Wagner’s long end of the world saga. Woolfe improved on Wagner, actually, using more species, more tentacles a little sleight of hand and more songs about coitus.

Be advised, it’s not really for children. They might learn something about coitus and inter-planetary copulation. I don’t think there’s any such advisory issued because it’s also rather obvious that it’s not real, it’s operatic, over-the-top. Indeed, I wonder if “over-the-top” is Eric Woolfe’s middle name.  If you take a young child be prepared to have to answer questions about coitus and human anatomy. And you could learn something about our friends on other planets.

But it’s a good thing, like the candy sprinkles and chocolate icing on top of the three layer cake. You don’t hold back with the decorations when you want someone to have a happy birthday or inter-species wedding.

This entry was posted in Art, Architecture & Design, Opera, Popular music & culture, Reviews, Theatre & musicals and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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