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Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Moans

A Work in progress
Catch the rough cut before Fringe

by Sarah Deshaies

Everyone’s got that place where they go to drink and boozily forget their problems. Some people opt for loud sports bars, others choose pool halls, others pick swanky boutique hotel lounges. Alain Mercieca’s favourite place to do that is the dive bar. And so, at a moment of exhaustion and desperation (I imagine) at 2 a.m. one night, he decided to whip up a dramedy based around his love for the dive bar, where everyone knows your name.

Mercieca, of course, didn’t just write his show on any old night. He came up with the idea during last fall’s 24-Hour Play festival, where theatrical geniuses have all the hours in one day to come up with an original play. This time, the twist was to produce a musical - no easy task. Mercieca was inspired by all the times he’s sat in in a Hochelaga or St. Henri bar; he can wax poetic about the writing he’s done, the quiet moments he’s had with friends. 

...the topic of the favourite bar and the real-life drama that unfolds inside them is a rich subject.

Mercieca came up with the words and the lyrics, and entrusted them to musician JP Mortier, who did a fine job crafting songs that are humorous and touching. Robin Henderson, the mastermind behind Fringe’s lively dance hit Dance Animal, embarked on the project fulfilling a myriad of roles: co-creator, producer, choreographer, director and dramaturge. 

Lorni and Sheryl are bartender Mahigan’s regular customers in his grimy bar establishment. Lorni (TSC regular Lise Vigneault) is a sweet simpleton of an unidentifiable age, and Sheryl (Dance Gecko Stephanie McKenna) is a shapely lady and the apple of his eye. As they put it, referencing their favourite drinks, he’s the beer and she’s the wine. Mahigan (Karl Philip Werleman) coaches Lorni on sweet-talking Sheryl. But she’s fallen in love with a no-good punk singer, the brazen, explosive Fritz. Luis Fernandes, with his beard and Wayfarers sunglasses, is eerily reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix circa his I'm-gonna-be-a-rapper-now moments.

The show itself is being presented as a workshop; Henderson’s choreography is still missing, and Mercieca will be reviewing some of the lines and the order. It’s not perfect yet. While the characters are lovable, they require some fleshing out. Mahigan is a sweet guy, but he needs a harder edge. Sheryl needs to be a shade more dynamic. And the singing needs further work.

But the topic of the favourite bar and the real-life drama that unfolds inside them is a rich subject. The realistic, quirky details are there, it just needs tightening. And I can’t wait to see the kind of choreography Henderson whips up; her work on Dance Animal was inspired. The team has until June to put the finishing touches on Moans.

Moans is being performed at Theatre Ste. Catherine Feb. 19. It’s a workshop edition; you can catch the final show at the Fringe Festival this June. The creators will be around after the show if you have comments.

Run time: 1 hour

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