Innovation Takes Centre Stage at Soulpepper

Published on: November 9, 2014

Filled Under: Featured, Reviews

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Stuart Hughes, Frank Cox-O’Connell, Anthony MacMahon, Brendan Wall, Diego Matamoros & Gordon Hecht.Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

If the announcement of their 2015 season this week was an indication that Soulpepper is looking to diverge from their norm, the two shows currently gracing the stages of the Young Centre of the Performing Arts proves that the desire to shake things up, has been a part of the company’s long game much before. SPOON RIVER is a honky-tonk musical version of the not-new-at-all Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, a text that is most likely familiar to many drama school students. Think Mumford & Sons meets Our Town and you’re getting the gist of what SPOON RIVER has to offer.
Before I continue, let me first declare my love of honky-tonk music. I love it.  I’m partial to the glitz of shiny objects and a good dance beat, but there’s something soul-fulfilling about a banjo harmonizing with a harmonica – pair that with a fiddle and I’m pretty much thrilled to bits. I had high hopes for SPOON RIVER. Fortunately, some narrative confusion aside, it lived up to my expectations and filled me with the salt-of-the-earth warmth I belive it intended to.

Entering into the theatre through the backstage, you’re taken through a picture adorned hallway, a sort of yearbook of Spoon River and it’s inhabitants. You’re immersed into the town by way of an old-school funeral visitation that ends in a forested graveyard…and then you take your seat. Someone in Spoon River has died too young and while the living mourn her, the dead, get ready to welcome her to their world. They reminisce about their lives – the joys and the much more plentiful sorrows, and what ultimately led to their death. Their stories weave together to paint the picture of a small town that both takes care of it’s living-inhabitants, but can also be unusually cruel to them. Ukulele’s and guitars are plentiful, thanks to Soulpepper Wunderkind Mike Ross who composed the show in it’s entirety.  Brace yourself for the beautiful and haunting number by fiddler Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake SwimmersRattlesnake ChoirJim Cuddy Band); it’s mesmerizing.

Some of the individual stories are hard to follow – both my date and I agreed on that. But we also agreed that, overall, it was one of the more beautiful shows we’ve sat through in a while and it just felt good to be there. Particularly when the banjos really went to town.

SPOON RIVER is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) until Nov. 15th , and again in March 7, 2015. For tix click here.

Picture

Graham McKelvie, Naoko Murakoshi; photo: Itai Erdal

 

On stage next door is THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT, a spectacle of poetry, sound, movement and some seriously great projections.
Based on the poetry of The Four Horsemen: Rafael Barreto-Rivera; bpNichol; Paul Dutton; and Steve McCaffery, an experimental poetry group from Toronto who had their heyday approximately 30 years ago, this show is an ode to these poets and also to their innovative arrangements of text and oratory.  The 4 performers on stage kill it.  Supported by Kate Alton’s hot and hard (ie. difficult) choreography, the actors take on this bizarre text (if you can call it that) with an enthusiasm that is admirable. Clearly skilled dancers, the four work together to create a cacophony of sound and movement that is at times funny, endearing, sweet and/or just plain weird. I admired what they were doing – but I didn’t get it.After reading the program and doing some online research, I think the lack of understanding is my own artistic bias/ignorance and not something to be held against the show. Art is about pushing boundaries and looking at the ordinary in abstract ways; we need that to happen to progress as a species, and also to keep conversations lively, and  THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT was definitely lively.

A production of Volcano Theatre, in association with Crooked Figure Dances and Global Mechanic, THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) until Nov. 22. For tix click here.

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