Tag Archives: Undercurrents

Getting to Room Temperature – Undercurrents 2016

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Fringe theatre by its very name explores characters and topics frequently marginalized.  Getting to Room Temperature adheres to this tradition in Arthur Milne’s one-man show recounting the struggles that accompany the decline and death of his mother Rose.

Based on Milner’s experience with his mother Rose’s death the work was inspired by her pursuit of assisted suicide when incapacitated by a lung infection in her early 90s.

Part personal story, part lecture the play follows a natural progression from childhood reflections on the “noble” death of Inuit elders once commonly believed to leave their families to die in the wild through to contemporary research on euthanasia and the repercussions of life-extending medical practices.

BoekstahlThe weighty material flows through Robert Bockstael’s seemingly effortless delivery weaving a believable humor with poignant remembrances and effective arguments. Bockstael feels familiar even intimate; a confidante who spins out his story as though at a fireside chat.

Having previously lost his father to cancer, in his early 70s, Milner balances the notion of death by illness versus death by old age. His father fights a losing battle while his mother sees science fight off what would have killed her in a previous era as her body and quality of life steeply decline.

The show is peppered with humour. Alone with his father at the time of death Bockstael comically relates all manner of trick to confirm death and, when he finally announces it to his family, “everyone looked at the nurse”. He recalls cracking bad “a guy goes to the doctor” cancer jokes to relieve the anxiety: the good news is you have cancer, the worse news is you have Alzheimer’s. Well at least it isn’t cancer. The show uses laughter throughout the production mimicking real-life coping strategies to relieve the strain of death.

Via anecdotes of hearing loss and blaring televisions to the move to a retirement home, Milner asks us to weigh-in on serious questions including the impact of incessant medical intervention, quality of life and the financial strain of eldercare telling us squarely that aging in any dignified sense requires deep pockets in Canada. Despite top-of-the-line facilities providing quality care and accommodations shadows lurk in the corners where dementia lives and is studiously avoided until it takes hold.

Bockstael asks many questions and convincingly delivers many interlocking theories on death: the search for death is not an illness, suffering is not a virtue. From a Polish-Jewish background that fled the Nazi who wiped out her remaining family are we right to require, as a society, that Rose suffer more? Are we right, as a society, to require that anyone gripped in a painful old age suffer more? Do the aged, like the terminally ill, have the right to die; this is at the very crux of the production.

This personal story cum TEDtalk raises universal questions about aging and eldercare that are provocative and timely. Milner’s work is well-time with law makers currently struggling to legislate Canada’s 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the right to assisted suicide.

Where do we go next? That is the lingering question in this journey of Getting to Room Temperature.

Getting to Room Temperature
Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave

 

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Monstrous, or, the Miscegenation Advantage – Undercurrents 2016

 

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Mis-ceg-e-na-tion (noun): the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.

monstrous1Sarah Waisvisz travels a murky, muddled and miss-remembered heritage in Monstrous a world premiere performance at Undercurrents that blends storytelling to dance in Waisvisz search for cultural belonging. Premiering during Black History Month this work comes at an opportune moment offering insight into the baggage carried by many North American’s in relation to cultural identity.

Monstrous explores, from mostly a personal perspective, the lost history of stolen and exiled people whose birthright was clouded by the impact of slavery, the holocaust and enforced displacement.

Born to a family of both the African and European Jewish diaspora Waivisz finds her identity inconsistently, interchangeably and assuredly defined by strangers. Straddling a range of indefinable skin tone somewhere between dark European and light African she is the “ethnic” child while her brother is the blonde “Gerber baby”. Growing up they play slave trader games and no points in guessing how the roles were divided.  As an adult strangers pronounce her identity assuredly and inconsistently: black, white, Israeli, Lebanese, Caribbean, Italian and other. The consistent repeated disassociation coupled with in-family jokes leads Waisvisc to self-diagnose herself as suffering from cultural schizophrenia.

Waisvisc dynamic energy fill the minimalist set where music, projection and dance illustrate a global trek as stories, anecdotes, lies, hearsay and research are pulled from this trunk of family history.

Africa, Europe & Martinique all figure  large in the exploration of a family’s legacy. Waivisz’s multilingual talents and her choice of French-language music serve this production well emphasizing the international scope. “Pourquoi tu n”habite pas ici tati?” gives an authenticity to this self-reflective production.

She travels to Martinique, where her parents first met, and remarkable silhouetted shadow-play on evocative projections linking sensory impacts – sound, sight, taste – with the cultural sense of self – “I want to remember everything – how do I know I will ever return”.

monstrous2Stories and research are played out through song, chalk maps and dance episodes so masterful that the room burst in to spontaneous applause. Through her performance and a vibrant selection of projections Waivisz takes us from Africa to Martinique, to Ottawa, Rotterdam, Paris, Ferney and beyond.

How do you define yourself when your cultural identity is blurred? Take a trip with Monstrous to decide.

Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave

 

 

Undercurrents – Raising the Bar

http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca 12-21 February 2015

Attendance at Undercurrents opening night was testament to Ottawa’s writing and performing talents where a boisterous and enthusiastic crowd filled the house for a trio of outstanding acts. As the festival grows year on year now extending over two weekends with more than 30 performances and an international act to boot the bar (sic)is set  high in both theatrical standards and as a shining example of how to run a event.

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Undercurrents delivers quality theatre in a convivial roughly-polished atmosphere proving it’s the sum of the parts that create a success. Planning to stay for only the first play it was the attention brought to the overall experience that drew me in to buy tickets and contribute to the Pay-What-You-Can (PWYC) act in the Studio (ahem bar) sandwiched between the two pay shows.

Remarks throughout the night from Festival Director Patrick Gauthier provided a welcoming, personal note to the proceedings. Gauthier’s vision and genuine enthusiasm alongside his personable approach is energising theatre in this city.

First up was Thunk!Theatre who set sail in Far & Near & Here on a serendipitous journey of self discovery with a first date thrown in for good measure. Plastic bottles haphazardly litter the set and the opening is rather choppy until Ned (Geoff McBride) and Ted (Karen Balcome) row in to each other’s lives via a notebook left in a cafe and a series of long-distance postcards. Meeting at a GPS point, Here, halfway between their respective homes of Near and Far both are at sea in more ways than one. The discarded bottles and office chairs are not only rowboats nor simply a metaphor for plastic choked oceans but as these two strangers are forced to face personal dissatisfaction head on the play moves from purposefully whimsy to become a pensive thought-provoking piece.

Air by Tottering Biped Theatre was a one-man physical performance with Trevor Copp nothing short of astonishing as he wordlessly encapsulates life after death, a stag hunt, and a man who reaches for and climbs to the stars. These brief performances set to well chosen soundtracks carried the audience easily with physical performances delivering beauty, humour and humanity.  Expecting little at the outset this act proved to be the gem of opening night.

Love + Hate by The Peptides delivers song-filled vignettes tackling the big issues of the day from corporate corruption through the polarizing effects of love and hate. The vocals of this 9-piece are fantastic, clearly a crowd pleaser, as evidenced by the packed house but the theatricality of the performances left me cold; the vocals far outstripping the Thespian routine. A straight-up concert strikes me as a more tempting proposition though I seemed to be in the minority on the night.

A glimpse of the generous spread

A glimpse of the generous spread

The curation of this event is fantastic. Across-the-road local class act resto-bar The Albion Rooms was enlisted to cater opening night and Chef Stephen La Salle outdid himself with a fantastically generous and creative spread. Most dates includes a PWYC option allowing the uninitiated to dip a toe in fringe with satisfying acts in the bar (ahem Studio). On Wednesday Feb 18th they’ve organised a free beer tasting with Dominion City sandwiched between SPIN at 19:00 and Marathon at 21:00 taking theatre accessibility to a whole new level. Ottawa’s theatres can frequently be staid seemingly forgetting that pretension is no marker of success or enjoyment.   Not so at Undercurrents where the delivery of the experience is equal to the quality of the selected pieces. Gauthier and co deliver an experience where the NAC season-ticket holder will feel as comfortable as a Sens fan. Neither precious nor pretentious Undercurrents gets it right delivering professional quality theatre alongside a proper night out.

ArtsCourt, 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa, ON
http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca

12-21 February 2015