CENTRE STAGE: In review: Leftovers, Seeds, Lapin blanc, lapin rouge, and Company

Charles Demers combines politics and and comedy in his theatrical debut.

LEFTOVERS

The Cultch and the Push International Performing Arts Festival presented Neworld Theatre’s Leftovers at the York Theatre — a one man show combining politics and comedy.

Charles Demers (who wrote the show along with Marcus Youssef) told the story of being born between the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, growing up in an era that undid a lot of the work that produced programs like national healthcare, and why things haven’t improved since those early days of neo-liberalism from where he stands as a socialist.

Demers has a rather dark family history: his grandfather died at the age of 33 and his mother passed away at 39 after a long battle with leukemia. Demers reflected on his own mortality, at age 35, as he wondered if his daughter would be the third generation to grow up with only one parent.

The show wasn’t all gloom, doom, and cynicism though — Demers is a stand-up comedian after all. His witty commentary about the current political landscape was peppered throughout as he gave a crash course on neo-liberalism, complete with a ridiculous video of Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking in support of Milton Friedman’s book, Free to Choose.  

 Particularly compelling was his explanation of Thatcher’s comment: “There is no such thing as society.” When his mother was in the hospital and couldn’t work, society is what kept their family going, he said. Demers concluded by close reading an iconic photo of Justin Trudeau leaning over to receive a kiss from his mother on election night.

Part stand-up, part family history, and fully political, this was a wonderful theatrical debut for Demers.

SEEDS

Eric Peterson (who you may know as Oscar Leroy on Corner Gas) was recently touring the lower mainland with Seeds, an inspiring docudrama about the meaning of life and one farmer who went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to stand up to Monsanto.

Seeds uses court transcripts and verbatim interview text to create a show that examines the case from both sides. Peterson plays Percy Schmeiser who is a determined farmer standing up to a multinational corporation on behalf of all farmers.

With video on a small screen above the back of the stage, strategic lighting, and a multitude of set pieces and props, the play follows Annabel (the playwright, played by Amelia Sargisson) through her journey to Percy’s farm, and her quest to figure out the truth.

Annabel realizes that the truth is elusive, and the question turns to the ethics of Monsanto’s seed patent, and the very question of who can own a living thing. With so many characters popping in and out of the story, I was impressed that the story moved along so fluidly and that so much information was delivered without getting lost in translation.

Peterson was wonderful as the disgruntled Schmeiser, and Sargisson played the inquisitive playwright with ease. The rest of the cast was impressive as they played a multitude of roles, and I enjoyed the addition of characters like Vandana Shiva who spoke to the issue of genetically-modified crops. The show presented all the evidence, and left the final verdict up to the audience.

LAPIN BLANC. LAPIN ROUGE

Theatre la Seizième’s Lapin blanc, lapin rouge was a unique theatre experience with a different actor each night performing a play that they have never before read. The night I attended the show, Denis Bernard was handed an envelope with the script, and none of us know what would happen next.

The playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, speaking to us through the text, instructed Bernard to do things often involving audience participation. For example, the first task was to count how many of us were in attendance. We counted ourselves, each saying a number until we reached the back corner at 89. The numbers were then used later on when number 15 was invited on stage.

What began as a seemingly innocuous, silly story about some animals at a circus quickly turned much darker, and it became clear that the circus was an analogy for life, much like the story of the white and red rabbits.

Soleimanpour described the way his uncle experimented by putting five rabbits in a cage and placing a carrot on top of a ladder. The rabbit who reached the carrot first would be painted red; the others would be sprayed with cold water. Over time, the white rabbits began to attack the red rabbit, and even once, with the rabbits switched out and with no carrot, any rabbit that climbed the ladder would be attacked. They were victims of their context, he explained, saying that the past shapes the future and the future shapes the past.

This wasn’t the only dark theme of the play. After reciting a list of the 17 different ways to commit suicide, Bernard read to us that the last method is life itself — the slowest way to commit suicide.

The show closed with an audience member reciting the final pages and Bernard sitting at a small table holding two glasses of water — one had an unknown white powder mixed in and one was clean. We were left wondering if he’d drink the contaminated glass and if it were poisonous or not. Bernard was instructed to drink one glass and then lay down on the stage as we exited so that we would not know how it had affected him.

For all its darkness, there were some profound messages in Lapin blanc, lapin rouge, and the participatory nature placed some burden of responsibility on the audience, forcing us to confront the ideas that Soleimanpour presented. It was a unique theatrical experience by a gifted writer.   

COMPANY

The following day, I took in a musical to balance out all the dark themes of the night before. The United Player of Vancouver’s production of Company was just the levity I needed. This musical by Stephen Sondheim features five married couples and their friend Bobby who is contemplating whether he wants to get married.   

The talented cast of striking voices filled the small Jericho Arts Centre with songs like “The Little Things You Do Together,” “Have I Got a Girl for You,” and “Getting Married Today.” The sparse set of versatile wooden boxes and a back wall of windows and doors could have used a bit more dressing up in terms of props, but the cast made up for this in their performances.

Bobby (Nick Fontaine) comes home to find that his “crazy married friends” have thrown him a surprise birthday party, and in it, being that he’s now 35, the number one topic of conversation is his marriage date. Bobby has three girlfriends, but he isn’t keen on marrying any of them.

With little profundity but plenty of relationship humour, this is an enjoyable show that was performed with beautiful harmonies and professional polish.