Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Theater Review: Somewhere, Saskatchewan

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Somewhere, Saskatchewan
Written by Kelly Jo Burke
Music by Carrie Catherine
Direction and design by Angus Ferguson
Dancing Sky Theatre (Meacham, SK)
Dancing Sky Theatre.com

Have you ever driven through some small village and wondered who would live there, and why? A spankin’ new play, Somewhere, Saskatchewan, addresses that very topic.

Before the show, as the audience drives out to the Dancing Sky Theatre in Meacham, SK, population 90, a lot of this minimalist production experience resonates though the very walls, both literally and figuratively. The story is of a musician who arrives in what at first appears a nearly deserted, crumbling Podunk in eastern Saskatchewan, and learns important life lessons that are passed on to the audience.

The process of how this tale was mounted is interesting in its own right. Saskatoon-based singer-songwriter and powerhouse Carrie Catherine, who is a fascinating activist in the cultural life of the city, decided she wanted to expand her horizons even further by asked award-winning playwright Kelly Jo Burke to write dialog for her to link some new songs she was composing (she is always writing). From that, and with the help of Carrie’s musical collaborator and stage-mate, percussionist Hal Shrenk – also a multiple winner of awards – Carrie put on her crowdfunding hat, made some promotional videos (available on YouTube), and raised enough backing to make her idea a reality.

With the help of the Dancing Sky Theatre team out in Meacham (45 minutes west of Saskatoon), which is in the middle of, well, somewhere, Carrie, Kelley and Hal have brought their story and music to life.

Arriving at the theater alone is a perfect prelude to the story about to be unfolded. When you turn off Highway 2, there are no signs in the 9-block municipality to direct you (the showcase is on the other side of town), but driving around town to find it certainly doesn’t take long: just look for where all the cars are parked, we were informed over the phone when ordering the tickets. We were also warned to wear boots, and right fully so, as the streets around the playhouse are dirt, or in the case of the melting snow, mud.

While Carrie (who also has won awards for her music)  is a powerful singer and songwriter, this is her acting debut. Well, unless you want to count the numerous videos she’s made for her songs, most of which are introduced by her. She is certainly high energy when called for, and does well to express the subtler emotions of her character, Ezzie. As the show starts, Ez is in a rock band in T’ronno (that Toronto to you uninitiated), and for reasons explained early on in frantic style, she ends up in this supposedly desolate place. How she adapts both spiritually and musically is the crux of the dramady. Comedrama? Anyway…

There are actually two performers in this show, as I noted above. The first is Carrie, whom I will get back to in a mo. The second is Hal, who’s role, according to the literature (what we in the big city call a playbill), is the Rhythmatist. This is both accurate and an understatement. Hal never verbally utters a word, but he is every single sound not uttered by Carrie (and also moves some of the set design, well-thought out by Angus Ferguson, who also ably directed the show). Along with accompanying Carrie’s guitar during the songs, he’s also the wind, the car, construction noises, and every incidental necessary jangle and clatter using various instruments, including those which are made by him. The man is incredibly talented, but his past work already belies that.

Musically, beyond this particular stage, Carrie is quite versatile, moving from rock to country and Roots, but also sweeter material. That helps her character be more expressive, as we see the evolution of Ez’s songwriting as the show progresses. Usually we see how the seeds of the songs germinate, and sometimes we get Carrie/Ez on both acoustic and electric guitars (no, not at the same time…) singing at full tilt. Nearly all the tunes are complete, rather than snippets, so this is occasionally like a concert of sorts. That alone makes the trek out to Meacham worthwhile, but I digress…

Other than verbally mute Hal, Carrie is alone on the stage with the entire dialog. Fortunately, she does not do the whole one-person-playing-many-characters, but rather it’s more like what Bob Newhart used to do on the phone during his routines: she’s say back what the other person is saying. Other times, though, it is just the audience hearing her part of the conversation, sometimes with just one or two words, but it’s never confusing about what the other invisible person is saying. It’s nice to see a play where the dialog doesn’t talk down to the audience, but rightfully knows that they can follow the thread.

Much of the rest of the talking is the verbalization of Ez’s thought processes. This way we hear the maturing of her experiences that resonate so well with the very surroundings.

There is a lot to echo what is happening on the stage with real life. For example, Carrie came back to the Prairies to find her dreams, like Ez. Also, the venue was once the town community centre, only to be refurbished as the Living Sky Theatre, much like an incident in the story.

There is a lot to be enjoyed by this production in its zeitgeist. Carrie’s singing, Hal’s rhythm and foley contributions, Kelley’s words, each individually would make an enjoyable experience. Altogether, it is a fun night of indie theater.

Now through May 12, 2013.

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