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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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originally published November 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament citing it was no longer functional, forcing Canadians to polls for the third general election in 4 years. That frustrated a large segment of an unfortunately already apathetic tax-paying population. The picture only seemed to get worse for voters as stock markets crumbled and Harper’s Conservatives government took a machete to arts funding. Bad enough Bill C-10 was a censorship wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing. All this served up inspiration for writer Edward Riche who seemed to be right on the arts community’s pulse when he wrote To Be Loved which debuted from October 10 – 12th at the Rabbittown Theatre just days before the election.

The 40 minute presentation was preceded by a video presentation called F*** The Arts, featuring a series of recognizable artists of every discipline satirically encouraging the funding slashes. The 3 short films were made by Brad Hodder, Neil Butler and Phil Churchil and edited into a more consistent piece for the prelude but are available to watch individually on the FTA group page on Facebook.

Hodder and Butler both starred in To Be Loved as well playing Harper and Stockwell Day respectively. The piece was set in 2040 and opened with Harper in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive with Day dropping by. The set was cluttered and easily recognizable as a home basement but also exaggeratedly peppered with Tim Horton’s paraphernalia. Day referenced the sweater vest Harper had on and they revisited how it was such a good strategy in 2008 joking the two should ‘go in costume’ for appearances, referencing Day in a wetsuit after winning his short-lived leadership. Day suffered more darts with Harper suggesting he was hard to keep on message and that if it was on cards it might have helped him.

Butler portrayed Day in an exuberant light that made him often appear innocently anxious which brought life to the lines that were just blurted out, seemingly without any prior thought. He exclaimed, “I never graduated. What a great country!” going on about his eventual position as Minister of Public Safety while digging through storage boxes for a “hat or sash” and ultimately snapping up with a helmet. He continued that “maybe pre-emotive incarceration” might help fix up the justice system and Harper eventually couldn’t help correcting him after saying “counter thunk” instead of counter intuitive.

The conversation shared by Hodder and Butler was trying to get at what might have triggered the motivation for cutting arts funding. When Day discovered Harper in the basement he was pounding away on a cardboard set of piano keys. Harper explained his teen asthma had precluded him from getting athletic so he opted for piano but the cardboard variety was all he’d got. Day quipped they should “offer a tax credit on cardboard piano’s, for everyone!” A joke referenced again when Harper shared his wife was also leaving him for a jazz musician, from Newfoundland, to which Day inquired “real or cardboard? He wasn’t ABC was he?”

There were other comedic references to the current political climate surrounding a government which will now be in power for at least another few years. The two joked about who had the best hair in cabinet (that went to Maxime Bernier) which led into a cardboard rendition of Canadian rocker Alanis Morrissette’s ballad Ironic. Harper also shared strategy with Day, letting him know that he’d shown Tom Flanagan the whole entire plan on the back on an envelope once.

To Be Loved is smartly written and created around a minimalist set that can be easily created with clutter. Featuring a small cast of two with only a few light changes, it was a great show that was easy to fully take in and appreciate, especially given the timely relevancy. The humour, although somewhat dark at points, didn’t presume a deep familiarity with politics either, instead lampooning campaign issues that were front and centre for the 2008 election but also some fundamental to Conservative Alliance policies. The reminiscing nature of the conversation between the two was somewhat laissez-faire, juxtaposing the opening video, but both unapologetically brought out their message that it is important to be loved and the arts are fundamentally important.

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