Summerworks Picks Take Three - Terre Haute; When It Rains; Terminus
By Justin Haigh
Terre Haute marks a stark departure for director Alistair Newton and his company, Ecce Homo. Their trademark style of ironic white-faced cabaret that has served them well in previous Summerworks productions The Pastor Phelps Project and The Ecstasy Of Mother Teresa, is notably absent, replaced by simple and profound naturalism – a choice dictated in part by Edmund White’s dialogue heavy script.
Based on Gore Vidal’s essays on and correspondence with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Terre Haute imagines a series of meetings and interviews between partially fictionalized versions of the legendary writer and the notorious domestic terrorist in the days leading up to the latter’s execution. Through their discourse, James (Vidal) and Harrison (McVeigh) develop an odd sort of chemistry; even though their personal backgrounds and perspectives on morality are wildly different, they find kinship in their mutual disdain for the arrogance of American government, in their shared intellectual curiosity, and even in their common status as sexual and romantic outsiders. It’s a challenging pseudo-love story that is unambiguously anti-violence, but also makes the point that acts of violence – and the motives of those behind them - ought not to be universally dismissed as nothing more than the senseless work of the deranged.
Terrence Bryant is compelling as James, balancing the author’s default haughtiness with vulnerability and grace, while Todd Michael Sandomirsky’s treatment of Harrison is magnetic, his cold burning eyes and chiselled features contradicting the humanity with which he imbues his character. Newton’s direction is elegant and effective, allowing White’s conversation to dominate while nudging the audience perspective through the occasional rotation of the set and characters.
When it Rains
When it Rains is described in the Summerworks program as “a live-action existential graphic novel”, and impressively, this production from writer/director Anthony Black of Halifax-based 2b Theatre delivers on that lofty promise.
Using only a digital projector (the sole light source), a wall of flats, and a scant few props, the creative team paints a bold and block-print like world of pixels for the characters to inhabit. Simple animation elements enhance the minimalist look while a cinematic soundscape fleshes out the constructed reality. Clever and convincing illusions, like that of a couple seen top down sleeping together in bed, add to the theatrical magic.
The story - that of two interwoven couples facing the decay of their relationships and grappling with the unyielding nature of tragedy - is just as strong as the technical elements. Dry and funny, and augmented by uncluttered dialogue, Black’s script charms as much as it challenges. Detached and all-knowing text and voice-over elements reinforce the themes of fate and pre-determination that lace the work.
A strong cast and imaginative direction (especially given the two-dimensional restrictions of the piece) allow When it Rains to reach its full potential.
The centrepiece of this Irish roller coaster ride is Mark O’Rowe’s stunngingly dark, disturbing, and equally colourful and imaginative script. The story takes place over one night in Dublin and is woven together via the first-person perspectives of a headstrong social worker on a moralistic mission, a young woman saved from death by a supernatural creature, and a greasy male wallflower with a sinister hobby. What makes O’Rowe’s words particularly impressive is that the entire piece is spoken in sort of broken rhyme – present enough to add lyrical grace, transparent enough that one never gets the feeling the characters’ natural dialogue has been contorted in the name of gimmickry.
The rock-solid cast, comprised of Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus, and Adam Wilson, deliver painfully convincing performances, while director Mitchell Cushman makes some bold and effective choices, such as seating the audience on the stage itself with the actors mere feet away - thus removing any sense of comforting distance.