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Friday, December 3, 2010

Five (Immediately) Memorable Shows

By Gaëtan L. Charlebois 
As the end of the year approaches it's a wise idea to look back without anger; it helps brace one for what may come in the new year. In that spirit I'm offering a list I invite you to extend with your own "immediately" memorable productions in Montreal English-language theatre.

Woyzeck, Centaur, 1974 
Felix Mirbt and Jean Herbiet's production of the Büchner play was the first performance for which I got in people's faces. I was a first year acting student at John Abbott College and actually did something about getting people to see it: I called Pam Turpin (with whom I later worked in the PR department at Centaur) and asked her if I could get a group discount for other students. She went one better and got us a handful of free tickets. I went for a second time and was hypnotized all over again by this heart-breaking story of a weak man. Decades later, when I saw the exceptional TNM production of the Berg opera based on the play, my mind was still flooded by images of that wondrous Centaur production. (Mirbt/Herbiet followed up with a Dream Play which was nearly as haunting.)

Mosquito Man, 1992
I had gone through an endless drought writing for The Mirror—one hideous production after another—when along came Bruce Smith's moving little play about losers in a bar, one of whom was played—with extreme maturity—by a young Donovan Reiter. They saved my life as a scribe. 

Deus Meus, SIN 4, 1995 (?)
I have Googled my fingers off trying to find the date and more solid information about this wondrous production but there is hardly a trace of it in cyberspace; however, the mark it left in my memory is indelible. Twining the Gay world and Catholicism, as it did, it was magic born of no money at all but of huge imaginations. Joseph Khiatta led the show and Reiter, again, was memorable. Of all the works I have seen with gay content—some considerably more explicit—this was the most erotically charged.

Paradise by the River, premiere, 1998
This is the work that revealed the genius of Vittorio Rossi to me. I knew he was a good writer, but this comfirmed he was a great one. A simple yet textured story told by a master.

Henry. Octobre. 1970., Gravy Bath, 2002
Ah! Gravy Bath—you are missed. This was Shakespeare's Henry V, but not. It was the October Crisis, but not. And in the strangest way, it illuminated both the Shakespeare and the historical event. This was only one of a slew of brave and beloved productions by this young company but it represented all of them at the height of their powers, especially the the two who adapted the Shakespeare: Anthony Palermo and Matthew Tiffen (who also directed).

(As I was writing this I remembered other productions I loved, of course; but now it's time to share yours with me.)


  1. TRAD, December 2007

    The Canadian premiere opened the Segal Centre Studio space and is one of my favourite SideMart Theatrical Grocery's productions. I mourned the loss of Gravy Bath; was a big fan like you so it was exciting to discover another company able to fill that gap in my heart. This particular production was pure magic. Though it began in a slowly paced surreal setting, the two main characters, an ancient father and son duo played brilliantly by Graham Cuthbertson and Patrick Costello with Andrew Shaver in two supporting roles, won your heart through "traditional" Irish wit and humour, taking embellished storytelling to a whole new level until, by the poignant ending, I and many of my fellow audience members had tears in our eyes. How did this happen? … I was just splitting a gut laughing. Much to our surprise, we had fallen in love with these quirky characters without even realizing it. The set and lighting designs were inspired and the haunting Celtic music played live between scenes was the perfect touch. I wish it were a film so I could watch over and over again.

  2. Robert Lepage's Dragon's Trilogy (remount 2003)
    Lawrence & Hollowman (at the Geordie 1999)
    Rose (at the Segal 2005)
    Raoul Bhaneja's Hamlet Solo (2006)
    Lepage's Face Cacher de la Lune (2004)

  3. Aside from my TRAD comment above (Blog#1) ...

    SCORCHED by Wajdi Mouawad (Centaur 2008)
    THE SYRINGA TREE by Pamela Gien (Centaur 2007)
    TSHEPANG by Lara Foot Newton (Theatre La Chapelle 2009)
    PARADISE LOST by Paul Van Dyck (Theatre Ste-Catherine & Hudson Village Theatre 2009)
    HAMLET (solo) by William Shakespeare (Theatre Ste-Catherine 2006) – I’m with you on that one Tony!

  4. 1974 Woyzeck by George Buchner - absolutely yes!
    1974 On the Job by David Fennario (Centaur)
    1986 Asinamali by Mbongenl Ngema (Centaur)
    1987 Fire by Paul Ledoux & David Young (Centaur)
    1988 The Chain by Vittorio Rossi (Centaur)

    I guess I should have gotten out a bit more, especially this century.

    Also on the fav list - Rossi's Carpenter Triolgy, especially Part One: Hellfire Pass

  5. 12 Messes pour le début de la fin des temps, Momentum Theatre
    One of the most inventive and creative theatre companies I've ever experienced. This piece was 12 separate stories located in unusual venues, one of them for example in a cemetary. The most memorable one for me took place on a tour bus. The bus made several stops to pick up people. One was a mother with a child. Another a derelict man etc. They were of course the performers representing all walks of life.

    At one point drinks and chips were served, but only to the first 10 rows. They were designated first class. I was sitting about row 12; so we didn't get anything. It was both hilarious and brought home a point. The tour went from east to west. At the end, we were dropped off in Westmount park and had to make our way home from there. Most disconcerting to those unfamiliar with Westmount.

    The Seven Streams of the River Ota, Robert LePage
    LePage's genius overwhelms me every time. This play touched on so many levels, his approach to horrific events like Hiroshima, the atomic bomb, but as always the signficant human search for survival overpowers.

    I too miss Gravy Bath a lot. But SideMart Theatrical Grocery has ably filled the gap. From American Buffalo to The Dishwashers, their creativity remains intact.

    (Estelle Rosen)

  6. MY PREGNANT BROTHER - Fringe 2009 & Wildside 2010.
    A solo piece written and acted by Johanna Nutter, whose vulnerability, honesty and bravery made an indelible impression on with me. Jeremy Taylor directed it.


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