Neanderthal Arts Festival
At the Cultch until July 28
There’s nothing musty or prehistoric about the Neanderthal Arts Festival. It’s as fresh and tempting as the greens at a farmers’ market. There are eight shows from which to choose at venues as diverse as the Cultch’s Historic Theatre to the actors’ kitchen in the Cultch basement. It’s possible to catch three shows in one evening starting at 7 p.m. as I did on opening night.
House of X—devised, directed and choreographed by Conrad Alexandrowicz, with texts by Erin Mouré, and produced by Wild Excursions Performance—sees the playwright moving even further away from language. In his 2003 play The Singer Falls Silent, Alexandrowicz explored the inadequacy of language; in House of X, he does away with almost all known language. He creates a new language with which he tells a three-part tale that feels like an Eastern European folk tale about A Suitor, A Mother and A Mad Daughter who later become a Father, The Daughter and The Other Daughter. The costumes by Catherine Hahn are just as unusual as the storytelling: half a suit jacket matched up with a sleeveless vest on the other side, for example. Alexandrowicz is very cerebral and House of X feels like an experiment in how much audiences are able to intuit through gesture and movement. Turns out, quite a bit. Jane Osborne, Sebastian Kroon, Linda Quibell and Crystal Verge move, sing, dance and speak a non-language to make Alexandrowicz’s point.
Down the elevator, all 12 of us go with director John Jack Peterson to see The List, presented by Bouchewhacked! Theatre Collective. The downstairs hallway is narrow and draped with huge paper lists: butter, milk, cheese, diapers, etcetera. The actors’ kitchen is small, claustrophobic and the perfect setting for Woman (France Perras), seated on a wooden chair in front of the sink. We sit around the perimeter of the tiny room that is also plastered with huge paper lists. Things to buy; chores to do. Perras, in a little black dress and pearls, her hair done up in a prim chignon, tells us she has killed her friend Caroline. As writer Jennifer Tremblay’s story unravels, it begins to feel like a two solitudes sort of tale—not intentionally, director Paterson tells us later.
Woman makes up for her unfulfilled life by creating order all around her while her only friend, Caroline, leads a child-filled life of happy chaos. This is a mesmerizing performance by Perras who alternates between a sort of aching loneliness and something like glee when speaking of Caroline. Perhaps there is also a secret desire to see Caroline pay for all that happiness? Director Paterson is exploring smaller and smaller spaces—and for The List that tightly focused space really works. If the Cultch has a broom closet, I’m betting he’ll be moving into that next.
The last of the three shows starts at 9:30, and it’s back in the Historic Theatre for Delinquent Theatre’s Stationary, written by Christine Quintana, directed by Laura McLean with music by Mishelle Cuttler and rap lyrics by Brian Cochrane. Underemployment, never-ending student loans, crappy digs and loneliness all contribute to the malaise of eight young adults trapped in boring office jobs and overseen by a bitchy boss. But the music is far from boring and the voices are terrific, the harmonies sometimes sublime. Much like the Chelsea Hotel seen this season at the Firehall, every performer also plays several instruments—including ukulele, trombone, cello, keyboards and guitar. Stationary is at its best when it departs from the budding romance and focuses on the anger over unrealized dreams. But these are smart, talented, young theatre-makers and when they get rocking, they really do rock. When the rousing closing number, “Tomorrow, My Best Friend,” turns into a forlorn refrain, Stationary has the power to move us.