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Beni Malone as Greta

Beni Malone as Greta

When Martin Sherman‘s Bent premiered in 1979, audiences were still largely unaware of what happened to pink triangles in concentration camps. “Survivors didn’t talk about it, because in Germany homosexuality was still against the law when the war ended,” director Sandy Gow of c2c theatre points out. Now, three decades later, it has carved out a position of prominence amongst its contemporaries.

“The play always feels immediate to me. Most days I don’t even think of it as a period piece,” Gow admits. “It’s full of energy, and even though it’s set against one of the worst events in history, it’s allowed to feel good sometimes. I still remember reading the first scene and laughing out loud. We need those moments; otherwise the ending would be too hard.”

Bent is about a “self-indulgent, charming” character named Max who is on the run from the SS in Berlin following the Night of the Long Knives in pre-war Germany.  He is accused of homosexual relations, eventually caught and relegated to Dachau.  Gow approached the script’s serious subject matter knowing, “it was important to address it openly and honesty, but not to drown in it.”

Gow specifically noted the talents of Andrew Whalen, Calvin Powell and George Robertson who have taken on the roles of the Gestapo, SS Guard, Officer and Captain. “Sherman didn’t shy away from the brutality these men inflicted, so we’ve jumped into the deep end with him. Working with violence and weapons onstage has been part of the experience. It’s important for it to not overwhelm the play, but the physical danger of the time has to live alongside the love story.”

Before the casting process, Gow already had her Max in mind and wanted Philip Goodridge for the role.  Interesting considering Sherman also had the actor whom he wanted to cast in that role in mind as early as initial drafts – Sir Ian McKellen.  Gow confessed, however, that “finding Horst was a challenge since the relationship between the two prisoners is thorny but extremely intimate at times.”

Bent Poster

Bent Poster

Ultimately, Jon Montes’ memorable audition led him to the part and Gow couldn’t be happier, gushing that “his Horst brings out the best in Max,” which is the best anyone could hope for in a loving relationship, regardless of surroundings. “This is a play about Max embracing who he is in the face of hatred and cruelty and being strong enough to feel the things he so desperately tries not to.”

Bent is known for one of the greatest love scenes of all time, despite the fact that there is no touch at all and Gow says that Goodridge and Montes have been “fearless” about approaching the intense moments.

The show’s strong cast has fully committed to the show as well.  Gow’s favorite aspect of the show is that the audience never leaves Max and other characters weave in and out, exposing glimpses that show how they all effect, love and change Max. “There was a lot of excitement and many that auditioned already had copies of the script or had previously studied it. When I asked Beni Malone to play Greta, he already had his copy on the shelf and Mack Furlong had been to the original production in 1979.”  Rounding out the cast are James Hawksley and Keith Pike.

The set, designed by Sam Pryse-Phillips and lit by Brian Bishop, allows for the show to move through a number of transitory settings that include an apartment to a bar, park to forest and a train to the concentration camp. The sound design was created by Shannon Hawes.  c2c theatre’s presentation of Bent will run from April 1-5 2009 in the Basement Theatre with a PWYC matinee on Saturday, April 4th at 2pm. Tickets are $20.00 and are on sale at the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office or order them by calling 729-3900. In c2c theatre tradition, they invite those attending on opening night to stay after the show for a small reception with the cast.

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originally published December 2008

Up next in the c2c basement theatre series is a show surely to be adored by St. John’s audiences, if not for the nostalgia then just by the pure whimsy of the subject matter. Sandy Gow is trying her had at directing in this, their fifth season. She let a few cats (dragons and pigs) out of the bag with this exclusive preview of the show!

The title suggests a lot of Munsch, how does the show come together?
There are 8 stories by Robert Munsch in the play. Some of them are very well known, like Mud Puddle and The Paperbag Princess, then there are stories that not everyone has heard before, like Ribbon Rescue and Aaron’s Hair. We discovered early on that Ribbon Rescue has become a cast favorite. It is about a young girl who accidentally ruins her beautiful dress when she gives all of her ribbons away to help a wedding party get to the church on time. The story has a great ending that I won’t give away here.

How did you stumble across the script?
There’s a series of Munsch plays adapted by Kim McCaw that were performed at The Grand Theatre in Edmonton some years ago. Charlie Tomlinson, our Artistic Director, was involved with that, and it was his idea for c2c theatre to do this show for children.

What’s the premise?
The play takes place in a kindergarten classroom, and the four children we meet are characters from Robert Munsch stories. Among the 4 is Elizabeth, she’s new at school. She has just had a big adventure with a dragon, but before she’ll tell the others about it, they have to tell her a story of their own.

What made you want to get involved with the project?
Choosing to stage a children’s show is a big step for c2c theatre. We’re opening ourselves up to the community, creating an experience that we hope becomes an annual event for young people and families. We’re very excited to be presenting engaging theatre for young people. It is an opportunity to share our skill of story telling and our sense of play with an age group that thrives on it.

Who’s this show for?
The short answer is that this show is for children, but the long answer is that Munsch is a very, very, very good storyteller, and I have had a lot of excitement come from adults about this show. Our job is to make it great for the kids, but we are all very proud knowing that this will be an enjoyable show for the grown ups as well. It feels pretty good to have a group or thirty year olds laughing out loud while watching “Andrew’s Loose Tooth” and “We Share Everything”.

What kind of show can people expect?
Because the show is based on Munsch stories, a lot of people ask if it’s story telling or a play. People can expect to see a play with a lively cast of characters and a lot of action. Adam Brake, Katie Butler, Willow Kean and Rory Lambert play the 4 children, and their energy and animation onstage is spectacular.

Any surprise details you can sneak?
When we began rehearsals for the show I asked Chris Driedzic, our musician, to consider creating the soundscape with instruments you would find in a child’s toy chest. What he brought into rehearsal was the most amazing collection of noisemakers, xylophones, bells, and whistles I’ve ever seen. This choice has had an amazing impact on the show.

First appearance with c2c in 2006, now direction, how’s that progression worked?
These past two years with c2c theatre have been amazing. This is the second show I’ve directed for c2c theatre, and I can see how much the company has grown since this time last year alone. The difference is outstanding. And with each new show I can see the support system grow. I am very lucky to have been given this opportunity. It is high on my list of good things to not take for granted.

How do people check out the show?
The show runs twice a day Thursdays to Sundays at the Basement Theatre, December 11 -14 and 18 -21. Tickets are on sale at the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office. 729-3900, with a Pay What You Can Matinee Saturday December 13 at 10am.

originally published December 2008

c2c theatre has been diligently working to establish itself as a producer of thought provoking scripts. Now in its fifth season they’re starting off with Montreal-born Francois Archambault’s The Leisure Society. This, the first of four in a basement series at the newly renovated Arts and Culture Centre, provided for a rollercoaster kick-start, directed by artistic associate Brad Hodder. Charlie Tomlinson importantly acknowledged that opening night was also the inaugural production in the refreshed space, thanking those involved for the investment and inviting the audience to share the traditional c2c opening night roasted turkey afterwards.

The Leisure Society

The Leisure Society

The four character show tackled everything from adoption to abortion and the difference between a threesome and an orgy. But despite the somewhat controversial subject matter of the events faced by Mary (Petrina Bromley) and Peter (Jonathan Watton) who are married and their ‘friend’ Mark (Aiden Flynn) who brings tag-along Paula (Jessica Power) for his visit, their mutual exposure makes its audience think. The dialogue of the show was engaging and Hodder’s direction combined with outstanding performances on all accounts kept it sharp. Bromley played a convincing drunk when her character’s taste for alcohol gets the better of her thanks to the box full of a dozen 26oz-er’s Mark brought with him. Power’s performance as his 21 year old “special” friend was breakout, believable and real – with her character becoming especially and surprisingly relative as the show unfolded.

The set design by Elyse Summers (5 Very Short New Plays In A Tub) was glossy and cosmo with canvas floor lights, a big furry rug with a leather top coffee table flanked by two leather benches on either side and a baby grand upstage centre. Hidden in the piano were packs of cigarettes and a flask, Peter and Mary’s hiding spots for their respective crutches. Both of which they helplessly try to fight, including the great debate of trying to smoke your last cigarette like your first when trying to quit.

Impossibly ignored, Mary and Peter have a birth child adding to mix of the evening crying constantly on a baby monitor, brilliantly added to the set and used. They are also in an adoption process and Mary’s pregnant considering abortion to protect the adoption procedure. All four evolved from being initially introduced through to the end. Mark who Peter and Mary plan to dump as a friend that night because of his wild ways and because they have nothing in common, eventually shows some disarming moments. Peter slowly seems to crumble becoming neurotic and irrational. The show’s devolution hovers around Peter’s fantasy of having a threesome. Mary ultimately decides that she is ready and suggests involving Mark – once they dump him, because then they won’t have to ever see him again. Problem was, Peter pictured the third party a woman. When Mark shows up with Paula drunken Mary asks to borrow her and the great debate ensues.

The scene transitions were particularly well executed in character, dropping to a dim light with an initial freeze then calm slow casual movement which continued to move the show forward. The soundtrack for the show was almost Charlie Brown styled piano and while subtle, fit perfectly. Notably well done transitions followed Mark and Paula butting heads and the very first with Mary and Peter having sex on the piano. The lighting after this transition scrupulously brought the audience back to the show leaving pause for post-sex satisfaction by back and top lighting both characters while they shared a cigarette before coming up fully once again.

The show was fast paced and crammed a lot into its almost 2 hour running time. The overall tone was almost that of a human drama film like The Shape of Things or Prime, just with way more punch. The show works towards getting to the things that matter, somehow amidst the jaw dropping shock comments, marital disputes and the unhappiness, confusion and boundless spontaneity. A shining start for the basement series which will next feature Paper Bags, Princesses, Puddles ‘n Pigs – Stories by Robert Munch, directed by Sandy Gow from December 11 – 21. c2c is covering all it’s bases with this will be one for the kids just in time for the holiday season, not to be missed!

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