A Wandering Jew Returns Book & Édith Piaf Sings In Ste. Vierge, SaskatchewanFriday, March 19, 2010
Obsession is an overwhelming passion for the intangible.
ELEPHANT WALK at the Cultch to March 20 (8.P.M. and Matinee at 2 P.M)
On Sunday Rosemary and I went to see the Chutzpah Festival play Underneath the Lintel (read about it in the second section below). We arrived home, thoroughly entertained but exhausted watching actor Christian Murray’s 80 minute one actor performance as a Dutch librarian obsessed in getting answers to the riddle of a book returned 113 years after it was borrowed.
Underneath the Lintel was really good but we were unaware that the play would be matched in entertainment and intensity by Elephant Wake at the Cultch which we saw, two days after, on Tuesday. This play, also a one-actor, one-act play features actor and playwright Joey Tremblay. Elephant Wake premiered in a shorter version in Edmonton 14 years ago is a Globe Theatre (Regina) production directed by Bretta Gerecke (and sets, and lighting and costumes!). It is 90 minutes long and the minutes go awfully fast. While actor/playwright rejects any who might think that this play is autobiographical, he did live in a small French Canadian community in Saskatchewan (Ste. Marthe) that somehow ceased to exist when a nearby, much larger Anglophone town competed for business.
A way of life ended and Joey Tremblay poignantly (funny, too, when you hear his terrific impersonation of Édith Piaf) tells the story of the decline and eventual disappearance of a way of life through a 75 year-old man who is not too smart, has a big heart and is the last living inhabitant of the fictional Ste. Vierge. Gerecke’s set design is an integral part of this performance. There are two reasons why you might not want to take children to his play. One is the occasional swearing and insults to Her Britannic Majesty and the other is that your children will soon deplete you of all your newspapers and flour.
When Rosemary and got home we were as exhausted emotionally as we had been with Underneath the Lintel. I have become convinced that both plays are about obsession. Underneath the Lintel (read below) is about an obsession to find the truth. The second, Elephant Wake, is I believe the obsession of one man who may have had this play in his head and an ever warm back burner for many years.
I went to photograph Joey Tremblay (above) yesterday and I was not in the least surprised to find out that he was having a nap in his dressing room. I don't see how a nap could possibly help him outlast the grueling performance wating for him that night. When he opened the door I was amazed that the 75 year-old man Jean Claude of the play, may be in his late 30s. He posed for me with one of the props (a French priest’s hat). As I left I asked him how he would define obsession in one sentence.
Without too much reflection, Joey Tremblay said, “An overwhelming passion for the intangible.” I am sure that the Dutch librarian and Christian Murray would both agree.
One of the positive side benefits of the restoration and improvement of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre is that its director, Heather Redfern had to move plays and other productions to other venues which resulted in co-sponsored productions like the on with Chutzpah a the Norman Rosthein Theatre and I could not forget to mention the three-way involvement with the Arts Club Theatre, and the Push Festival of the Catalyst Theatre production of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe last February. Redfern has also traveled and has been bringing us the best of these travels. It was in 1995 that she first saw Elephant Wake. We can be grateful to her that she did.
While there have not been any big white Chinese elephant sightings in Saskatchewan I would advise any motorists approaching Welby, Saskatchewan to keep their eyes peeled on the road.
UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL (7 P.M. to March 20 at the Norman Rothstein Theatre) part of the Chutzpah Festival
When my granddaughter Rebecca accompanied me, some years back, to a concert of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra held at St James Anglican on East Cordova I told her that the church was as Roman Catholic as it could possibly be but still be Anglican. Her curiosity led her to ask me to explain to her the 14 Stations of the Cross on the wall. When I got to Station 5 I told her that my Spanish, and very Roman Catholic grandmother had told me that El Cirineo (Simon of Cyrene) had been a reluctant Jew who was forced to help Jesus with the carrying of His cross to Golgotha.
It came as a surprise to find out there was a different and intriguing side to that story last Sunday when Rosemary and went to the Chutzpah Festival play, Underneath The Lintel (Presented with the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and The Cultch and which is a Frankie Productions, Nova Scotia, performance).
This 80 minute wonder is a one man (Christian Murray), one-act play written by American writer Glen Berger. It is directed by Mary Vingoe with sets designed by Stephen Osler and lighting design by Ingrid Risk.
The play is about a small Dutch town librarian who is off on a search for answers when at his desk he finds a 113 year overdue travel guide book that has been anonymously returned. His obsessive curiosity takes him to London, Paris, Dingtao, China and Australia. Throughout the performance, in spite of the fact that I was being highly entertained I was both amazed and worried for the well-being of the actor. Such a performance must drain him. Not being an actor I will never understand what propels one to act in one act plays and suffer the agonies that must accompany such an undertaking.
This Nova Scotia production proves to me that not only is the one actor, one act plays alive and well in BC but also across Canada. In the past I have been amazed by one actor, one act plays featuring locals Lois Anderson, Bill Dow and Jonathan Young.
In Glen Berger’s version of the El Cirineo story a man is under the lintel of his home when Christ passes by carrying his heavy cross. Christ stops and gestures for help. El Cirineo refuses. Christ tells him, “You will wander, and not rest until I return.”
This is one version of the wandering Jew, a man who never sleeps, rests, sits down or settles to live in any one place for long.
The librarian begins to suspect that the man is somehow alive (but not well and wanting to reveal his existence with obscure hints) into the 20th Century.
Christian Murray deftly shifts between being the nerdish librarian who lusts after a better position, to the obsessed man, who in the end gives no importance to the possible loss of his job and pension. There are botanical and canine connections in the play that I will not reveal here.
If there is a problem, it would be which play, of these two, to see first. Underneath the Lintel runs until Saturday (7 P.M.) and so does the Cultch’s Elephant Wake (8 P.M.). But there is the extra opportunity of catching the latter as a matinee on Saturday at 2 P.M.